Saturday, September 15, 2012

709. Narayama bushi-ko/The Ballad of Narayama (1983)

Running Time: 130 minutes
Directed By: Shohei Imamura
Written By: Shohei Imamura, from the novel Narayama bushi-ko by Shichiro Fukazawa
Main Cast: Ken Ogata, Sumiko Sakamoto, Tonpei Hidari, Aki Takejo, Shoichi Ozawa
Click here to view the trailer


Continuing on with my salute to 1980s cinema this season, I come to "The Ballad of Narayama" - a Japanese film that won the Palme D'Or at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival. As I read the synopsis for the movie, via the sleeve that it arrived in from Netflix, I had high hopes for this one. This film is proof that hopes can be dashed in an instant.

The film is set in 19th century Japan, in a small village, comprised mostly of farmers. According to tradition, when a person reaches the age of 70, they are to be taken atop Mount Narayama, carried by a male member of their family, where they will wait to die. Orin (Sakamoto), the film's main character, who most of the villagers call "granny", is 69 years old and is ready for Narayama. However, before her son Tatsuhei (Ogata) carries her up the mountain, she has some affairs to get in order. First and foremost, she wants Tatsuhei to find a wife, which he does. Orin also helps her youngest son, Risuke (Hidari) lose his virginity and takes part in the punishing of a family when they hoard more than their fair share of food. As the matriarch of the family, Orin doesn't want to be a burden to her children and shows them that she's pleased to make her final ascent up Narayama, even going so far as to break out her teeth to make it look like she's getting old.


It sure doesn't sound THAT bad does it? I mean, when I read the basic synopsis of "The Ballad of Narayama", I read about a film that should've been filled with emotion and heart. Instead, what we get is a very strange film that doesn't show too much emotion and if it does, it's very concealed. I just didn't take that much away from this movie. To me, the film was too long and too dull to amount to anything and really there wasn't enough going on to fill out an over two hour running time. There seemed to be a message in there somewhere too, but I'll be damned if I could decipher it. Someone mentioned that it's a film about sacrifice, but I didn't get that. THE BOOK mentions that the film may be about mortality and the realization of death and while I got slight hints of that theme, it didn't seem to be prevalent enough to really amount to anything. All I saw was two hours of an old lady saying how badly she wanted to get to the top of Narayama, a guy having sex with a dog and that same guy being so smelly and disgusting that no woman in her right mind would assist him in losing his virginity.

There were a few key scenes and the film didn't drag nearly as bad as "Yeelen". I oftentimes found myself being caught up in the movie, even though I wasn't being blown away. Certain scenes to look out for include a family being buried alive when they hoard too much food and of course, the final segment when Tatsuhei carried Orin atop Mount Narayama, where she mustn't speak during her entire journey. Otherwise, unless you're heavy into Japanese cinema, take a pass on this one and save two hours and ten minutes of your life because, trust me, it's not worth your time, Palme D'Or or no Palme D'Or.

RATING: 4.5/10  Like I said, it wasn't a complete and total failure, so I have to give it a few brownie points for that, but otherwise, it's a strikeout.


September 15, 2012  10:23pm

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