The Ballad of Narayama Movie Review

As you make your way through previous winners of the Cannes Film Festival's Palme D'Or, be sure to stop at 1983 to watch The Ballad of Narayama, a remarkable comedy/drama that lives up to that overused adjective: haunting. Director Shohie Imamura, who left behind a remarkable body of work before his death in 2006, is well-served by a 2008 remastered DVD that captures the film's beauty effectively. He would be pleased.

Set "100 years ago" in a primitive and remote northern Japanese village, Narayama takes an intimate look at village life in a place where constant near-famine forces the townspeople to banish their elderly citizens to a mountaintop death at the age of 70. Next up for this passage -- which, by the way, almost no one seems to protest -- is Odin (Sumiko Sakamoto), the spry matriarch who is in such good health that she actually pulls out some of her own teeth to convince her family that yes, her time has indeed come. But before she goes, she has business to attend to.

Odin's widowed eldest son Tatsuhei (Ken Ogata) needs a new wife, and she find him one in a widow named Tamayan (Takejo Aki) from the next town over. Odin must also deal with the horny Kesakichi (Seiji Kurasaki), a grandson who should really be settling down by now. Unfortunately, he chooses Matsu (Junko Takada), who, in an act of loyalty to her own hungry family, steals food for them. When her crime is discovered, the normally sweet-tempered Odin is the first to call for brutal punishment, and when it's discovered that Matsu's whole family has been stealing from their neighbors' farms, the penalty is swift and shockingly brutal.

We also learn a lot about 19th-century Japanese culture, such as the intriguing fact that younger sons are considered left over and treated with no more care as family pet. Left to their own devices, they roam the village like feral animals looking for work, food, and sex. It's a fascinating detail, and interestingly, Imamura treats it with a comic touch. Still, life and death issues are ever-present in this harsh place, and Imamura famously juxtaposes dramatic scenes with images from nature, so that we see one of Kesakichi's sex sessions right before we watch two snakes go at it, and an owl eats a mouse while the villagers hunt down Matsu's family.

When it comes time for Odin to go, tradition demands that Tatsuhei carry her up the mountain on his back in silence. This is a brilliantly executed sequence, and it's hard to forget the image of Odin left behind sitting peacefully in a field of bones and snow falls on her still figure. She's done her job, lived her life, and couldn't be more at ease. Amazing.

Aka Narayama bushiko.

Now git up that mountain.

Cast & Crew

Director :

Producer : Goro Kusakabe,

Starring : , Junko Takada, Seiji Kurasaki, Takejo Aki


Comments

The Ballad of Narayama Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NR, 1983

Advertisement

Editors Recommendations

Heads Up, Clone Club! "Orphan Black" Renewed For Third Season

Orphan Black, aka one of the best shows on television at the moment, got renewed...

Heads Up, Clone Club!

British Tabloid Apologizes After George Clooney Slams False Story About Fiancé's Mother

George Clooney is known for being private when it comes to his personal...

  British Tabloid Apologizes After George Clooney Slams False Story About Fiancé's Mother

Robert Downey Jr. And Susan Downey Expecting Second Child Together: Part I - The Twitter Announcement

We kind of wish we could hire Robert Downey Jr. to announce all our...

Robert Downey Jr. And Susan Downey Expecting Second Child Together: Part I - The Twitter Announcement

Mehgan McCain Could Be Next In Line To Join 'The View'

Since Sherri Shepherd and Jenny McCarthy are leaving the daytime talk show...

Mehgan McCain Could Be Next In Line To Join 'The View'

David Letterman Jokingly Walks Out On Joan Rivers During 'Late Show'

The 67 year-old host showed the controversial comedienne what...

 David Letterman Jokingly Walks Out On Joan Rivers During 'Late Show'
Advertisement

Trey Songz Earns Second No.1 Album On Billboard Chart With 'Trigga'

The 29 year-old singer thanked "everyone who went and spent their...

Trey Songz Earns Second No.1 Album On Billboard Chart With 'Trigga'

Justin Bieber Pleads No Contest To Vandalism Charge In Egg-Throwing Case

The 20 year-old singer has been handed two years of probation, ordered...

Justin Bieber Pleads No Contest To Vandalism Charge In Egg-Throwing Case

Stevie Nicks To Join 'The Voice' As Advisor To Adam Levine's Team

Stevie Nicks is all set to join The Voice, taking on an advisory role...

Stevie Nicks To Join 'The Voice' As Advisor To Adam Levine's Team


More recommendations

Advertisement