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The Ballad of Narayama (1958)

Narayama bushikô (original title)
A kabuki theatre-inflected story about a poor village whose people have to be carried to a nearby mountain to die once they get old.

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
...
Orin
Teiji Takahashi ...
Tatsuhei
Yûko Mochizuki ...
Tamayan
Danko Ichikawa ...
Kesakichi
Seiji Miyaguchi ...
Mata-yan
Keiko Ogasawara ...
Matsu-yan
Yûnosuke Itô ...
Matayan's son
...
Messenger
Ken Mitsuda ...
Teruyan
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Storyline

In Kabuki style, the film tells the story of a remote mountain village where the scarcity of food leads to a voluntary but socially-enforced policy in which relatives carry 70-year-old family members up Narayama mountain to die. Granny Orin is approaching 70, content to embrace her fate. Her widowed son Tatsuhei cannot bear losing his mother, even as she arranges his marriage to a widow his age. Her grandson Kesa, who's girlfriend is pregnant, is selfishly happy to see Orin die. Around them, a family of thieves are dealt with severely, and an old man, past 70, whose son has cast him out, scrounges for food. Will Orin's loving and accepting spirit teach and ennoble her family? Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Drama

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Details

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Release Date:

19 June 1961 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Ballad of Narayama  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Color:

(Fujicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

This was the final film to be added to Roger Ebert's list of "Great Movies" before his death on April 4, 2013 at the age of 70. See more »

Connections

Remade as Narayama bushikô (1983) See more »

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User Reviews

 
Dumping Grannies
5 January 2008 | by (Ireland) – See all my reviews

Kinoshita is a director who seems to have two distinct reputations - his Japanese reputation as a beloved and critically acclaimed filmmaker of long standing - and his western reputation as a technically adept but conservative and overly sentimental director, not someone in the same class as Kurosawa, Ozu, etc. This movie seems to sum up why this could be.

Its based on a classic old story, about a son who's duty is to bring his elderly mother to a mountain to die, in line with local tradition. This tradition is a rational response to extreme poverty, where infanticide is the normal form of birth control and the old are seen as too much of a burden for poor families. The mother is determined to go with dignity, to meet the gods on Mount Narayama - the loving widowed son is desperate to dissuade her. His older son and daughter in law are hateful, immature and greedy, more than willing to see the grandmother go if it means more food for them.

The story is told in a highly theatrical, staged style, and narrated and acted as if it were a kabuki play. It even starts with a curtain parting. This would have been familiar to early Japanese film goers as the roots of Japanese cinema was in filmed theater, rather than in representational forms (i.e. 'moving pictures') as in most other countries. So, while this seems a somewhat contrived and arty approach to a modern western viewer, to the contemporary Japanese audience it would have been familiar and natural.

The staging is beautiful and it is a very moving story, with some gorgeous sets and lighting. Kinuyo Tanaka is particularly moving as the old lady (she was also a director in her own right). One source book (by David Thompson) claims she actually had her teeth removed to make the movie, although I'd be a bit skeptical about that (this sounds to me like the sort of thing a publicist would invent). Like similar movies such as the Kon Ichikawas superior 'An Actors Revenge', this movie is a very accessible introduction to viewers to traditional Japanese forms.

A solemn and formal film like this could be boring, but its a tribute to Kinoshita and the actors that it is always gripping and powerful. However, it also exposes his weaknesses as a director, as the story is used purely for aesthetic purposes, and with the sorrow of the son being used to grab our sympathies, but there is no element whatever of a condemnation of a society that allowed this to happen, or for that matter an exploration of the psychological implications of this on the individuals in a society. I would have expected any of the more astute and radical directors of the time (such as Masumura or Ichikawa) to have used this basic story as a way of critiquing Japanese society or exploring what this sort of situation tells us about ourselves. In this way, the movie is essentially quite shallow and conservative.


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