The Ballad of Narayama (1958)

The Ballad of Narayama (Narayama bushiko)the_ballad_of_narayama_1958_dvd
Directed by Keisuke Kinoshita
Written by Keisuke Kinoshita from stories by Shichiro Fukazawa
Shochiku Company
First viewing/Hulu


“I am incapable of conceiving infinity, and yet I do not accept finity. I want this adventure that is the context of my life to go on without end.” ― Simone de Beauvoir, La Vieillesse

Kinoshita has been hit or miss for me.  This film was a big, big hit.

The story is presented in kabuki style – without the masks but with a sung narration.  It concerns a legendary mountain village where food shortages have resulted in a cruel tradition.  When a person turns 70, s/he is left to die in a mountain top domain of the gods called Narayama.

Orin (the fantastic Kinuyo Tanaka) is about to turn 70 and is happily looking forward to her journey to Narayama.  She cares tenderly for her whole household, arranging her widower son’s marriage to a recent widow and welcoming the arrival warmly into their home.  Her eldest grandson is a total ingrate, however, and openly sings songs mocking his grandmother and wishing for the day of her departure.


We see other traditions of the village, all of which seem to revolve around food.  Reprisals against food thieves are swift and violent.  One old man refuses to go to Narayama and is denied food by his family.  Finally, the day comes when Orin’s son must reluctantly bear his mother to her final resting place.


This story might be too much to take without the distancing effect of the kabuki device. The stylized production still is very moving, largely due to Tanaka’s genius acting at its heart.  Orin’s kindness balances out all the negativity of many of the other characters.  The painted sets and use of color are glorious.  Highly recommended.

Trailer – no subtitles

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