Fishing for Hurt
Depicting a generational war between a village and an enormous whale, The Whale God includes sensational cinematography, lavish action scenes, and a hauntingly familiar score by Akira Ifukube.
The rest is ponderous, exaggerated, and weepy, with messy love triangles and philosophical discussions about a people who know nothing other than the sea. Their entire culture becomes defined by this one sea creature, which lashes out when attacked but the people see this as a divine entity, and their life’s purpose is to see it’s end.
Some villagers see the growing insanity in his historical drama. They leave, choosing to live unbound from a whale, rejected from this closed society permanently for not staying to fight. Women choose their lovers based on their ability to kill, and men battle one another for the same rights, to prove their worth. Driven to madness, the villagers live a sorrowful existence, but one few ever want to leave. A religious subtext strengthens their resolve.
The Whale God is slow-moving, clunky even, with exaggerated emotions. Characters scream many of their lines, and approach their task with such enraged hatred, they border on the psychotic. No doubt, some are. Daiei studios’ regular Kojiro Hongo stars as an outsider, pushed into this society and circumstance by choice.
The mythical creature is a mix of miniature and full size prop, executed well, and edited carefully, even if the technique is obvious. The goal was never realism as this stage-y allegory about vengeance churns though numerous emotions. It’s more mythical, labeled a Japanese take on Moby Dick, and that much is evident by the time the closing credits scroll past; Whale God isn’t subtle in its imagery or tone.
In Whale God, there’s a striking story about man’s folly, where hatred inevitably leads, and more than a few callbacks to Toho’s own Godzilla. A sacrifice at the end recalls Dr. Serizawa’s choice, albeit with different historical context. However, Whale God lacks the same character definition to draw out the emotions, turning many of the key players into overtly angry archetypes looking for a brawl. It’s unique in its perspective on such a tight, closed culture, but difficult to find engaging for the full runtime.
Two things hold this western Blu-ray debut back from perfection. The first is print damage, at times severe, other times a smattering of scratches and scrapes. It’s entirely scene dependent, but given the scale of this release, whatever the print used must be considered worthy enough. Hopefully though, sometime in the future, Whale God sees a capable clean-up.
The other fault is gray scale, keeping the imagery in mid-tones, lacking in contrast and without the bite from richer black levels. Whale God thus looks flat, even pale.
Those two faults aside, the rest looks fantastic. Compression weakens in spots, but those are brief lapses. Encoding keeps a firm grip on the material, resolving the grain structure well. A high-resolution scan draws out Whale God’s textural qualities, providing facial definition extensively when in close. Wide shots of the village or ocean waters provide additional visual sharpness.
Regardless of the complaints, Whale God is almost certain to never look better on Stateside home video. “Almost” is a key word though.
It seems criminal to bring an Akira Ifukube soundtrack to Blu-ray in compressed Dolby Digital, but here we are. The track sounds fine as-is, messy in its range but generally clear. Highs exhibit little to no distortion, even if the orchestration sounds choked by compression.
A text essay by Henning Strauss titled Moby Dick vs Godzilla comes first, and a second text essay concerns Whales in Japanese folklore, penned by Eugene Alejandro. However, there didn’t seem to be a way to forward through these to read more than the first page. None of the remote’s buttons worked. A promo from YT’er Kaiju United hypes this release for a minute and a half. From there, it’s trailers.
The Whale God
The Whale God’s philosophical merit and superb action scenes offset the overstated personal conflicts and sluggish romantic drama.
User Review( votes)
The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 31 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray: