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The Ballad of Narayama (1983) (Masters of Cinema) [Dual Format Blu-ray & DVD]
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Cinematic anthropologist extraordinaire Shohei Imamura won his first Palme d'Or at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival for The Ballad of Narayama [Narayama bushik ], his transcendent adaptation of two classic stories by Shichiro Fukazawa.
In a small village in a remote valley where the harshness of life dictates that survival overrules compassion, elderly widow Orin is approaching her 70th birthday - the age when village law says she must go up to the mythic Mount Narayama to die. But there are several loose ends within her own family to tie up first.
Creating a vividly realised inverse image of 'civilised' society with typical directness and black humour, Imamura presents a bracingly unsentimental rumination on mortality and an engrossing study of a community's struggles against the natural elements. Handled with a masterful control and simplicity, moving effortlessly between the comic and the horrific, The Ballad of Narayama is one of the legendary director's deepest, richest works, and ranks among the finest films of its decade.
SPECIAL DUAL FORMAT EDITION FEATURES:
- New, restored high-definition transfer
- New and improved English subtitle translation
- Exclusive new video interview with scholar Tony Rayns
- Four original Japanese theatrical trailers, including behind-the-scenes footage
- PLUS: A lavish booklet featuring an interview with Sh hei Imamura, excerpts from the producer's on-set diary, rare promotional material and stills, and more!
Top customer reviews
The Neko family, led by matriarch Granny Orin(the superb Sakamoto Sumiko, who had replaced the original choice in the role and who was only 49 at the time and who at Imamura's insistence removed her 3 front top teeth for the role),are the focal point of the film.Her "sons",the widower Tatsuhei(Ken Ogata)has agreed to a second marriage,Katsuzo(Ozawa Shoichi) spends all his time singing and getting the eldest Amaya daughter pregnant with tragic consequences and Risuke(Hidari Tonpei)the family idiot with a body odour problem.
Granny Orin is determined to get her family's affairs in order before honouring the village custom which is that when you reach 70 you are carried up the Narayama mountain to be left to die as an offering to the Gods.
Imamura's take on this oft filmed Japanese fairy tale is as always a striking affair.The story meanders a little at times but the performances are rich,the naturalistic approach is very effective and there are some pretty strong moments along the way -the punishment of the Amaya family and the"body" in the field as the snows thaw -which are handled with sensitivity and weight by the sureness of Imamura's direction.
A lot of filmgoer's are becoming more familiar with Japanese cinema through Ozu,Mizoguchi,Shindo,etc and I would place Imamura alongside them.
MoC have put together another good package.Extensive production notes(and it was an arduous one)and interviews with Imamura and his longtime collaborator Tomoda Jiro.
The blu ray is presented in it's org aspect ratio 1 :85 :1 and although the atmospheric opening sequence over the village is very grainy,the print improves markedly with the spring colours being particularly striking.
The town is an agricultural outpost in 19C Japan, largely cut off from life in the city and mired in poverty. The village is so poor that the population balance must be strictly maintained: only the eldest sons are allowed to procreate or even marry, unwanted children (particularly females) are exposed to die, and elders are led to the mountain top and left to freeze or die of thirst at the age of 70. As one might imagine, this creates terrible pain for everyone, though it enables them to survive as a community in demographic stasis.
The principal character is Orin, who at 69 is robust and much loved and respected in her village. She feels shame at her health and consciously chooses to go through the ritual of passing on her right to live to the next generation. Her eldest son is full of anguish, but will also obey the forms; he is newly remarried by arrangement with a woman from a nearby village whom he has never met. She arrives hungry for life and selfish to take whatever she can for her moment. Orin's younger son is a desperately lonely man, who is treated as an outcast by the other villagers, largely because his has a deteriorating lung that makes his breath unsupportable. He is full of anger and malice, hating his taunting nephew. YOu feel sympathy for them, but more than anything they appear as selfish brutes.
The rest of the town is similarly dysfunctional. There are a number of bitter younger sons, deprived of chances at a normal life and huddled in jealousy and greed for experience. There is a horrible scene where a young woman is forced to service them in the most sordid manner, making this inappropriate for children and simply grotesque for the viewer. That is the problem with the film: in its attempts to paint a realistic picture, it is so ugly and heartless at times that it feels over the top. I do not pretend to know the historical accuracy of the films, but having lived in Japan, it certainly appeared realistic to me.
There are uplifting moments, when kindness is shown, but it has an ironic edge and a strange sense of the futility of it all. In the backdrop, there is a feeling of mystery and fear at the power of nature, as when Orin's son discharges an old rifle at a dark, billowing tree - it is poetic and evocative.
Recommended for serious enthusiasts of Japanese cinema. This is unromantic, but in many places well done.
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