IMDb > Ballad of Narayama (1958)

Ballad of Narayama (1958) More at IMDbPro »Narayama bushikô (original title)

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Ballad of Narayama -- When townsfolk reach the age of 70 in Tatsuhei's village, it is customary to bring them to the top of the nearby mountain to die. When it is his own mother's turn, Tatsuhei begins to question the tradition.


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Release Date:
19 June 1961 (USA) See more »
In Kabuki style, the film tells the story of a remote mountain village where the scarcity of food leads... See more » | Add synopsis »
Plot Keywords:
6 wins & 1 nomination See more »
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User Reviews:
Dumping Grannies See more (9 total) »


  (in credits order) (complete, awaiting verification)

Kinuyo Tanaka ... Orin
Teiji Takahashi ... Tatsuhei
Yûko Mochizuki ... Tamayan
Danko Ichikawa ... Kesakichi
Seiji Miyaguchi ... Mata-yan
Keiko Ogasawara ... Matsu-yan
Yûnosuke Itô ... Matayan's son
Eijirô Tôno ... Messenger
Ken Mitsuda ... Teruyan

Directed by
Keisuke Kinoshita 
Writing credits
(in alphabetical order)
Shichirô Fukazawa  stories
Keisuke Kinoshita  writer

Produced by
Masaharu Kokaji .... producer
Ryuzo Otani .... producer
Original Music by
Chûji Kinoshita 
Matsunosuke Nozawa 
Cinematography by
Hiroshi Kusuda 
Film Editing by
Yoshi Sugihara 
Production Design by
Kisaku Ito 
Art Direction by
Chiyoo Umeda 
Set Decoration by
Mototsugu Komaki 
Costume Design by
Toshikazu Sugiyama 
Production Management
Kei Hamano .... production supervisor
Second Unit Director or Assistant Director
Yoshikazu Ôtsuki .... assistant director
Art Department
Genzô Furumiya .... set designer
Sound Department
Shûzô Horikawa .... sound mixer
Hideo Nishizaki .... sound recordist
Hisao Ôno .... sound recordist
Camera and Electrical Department
Takashi Akamatsu .... camera operator
Hiroshi Iijima .... lighting technician
Tôichirô Narushima .... camera operator
Ryôzô Toyoshima .... gaffer

Production CompaniesDistributors

Additional Details

Also Known As:
"Narayama bushikô" - Japan (original title)
See more »
98 min
Color (Fujicolor)
Aspect Ratio:
2.35 : 1 See more »
Sound Mix:
UK:U (2007)

Did You Know?

The final film to be added under Roger Ebert's list of "Great Movies" before his death in 2013.See more »
Movie Connections:
Remade as The Ballad of Narayama (1983)See more »


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8 out of 10 people found the following review useful.
Dumping Grannies, 5 January 2008
Author: GyatsoLa from Ireland

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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