Films: The Ballad of Narayama

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  • Saturday, November 05, 4:15 PM
    Starz FilmCenter

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The Ballad of Narayama

The Ballad of Narayama

Japan, 1983, 130 Minute Running Time
Genre/Subjects: Drama, Historical/Period
Programs: Contemporary World Cinema, Focus on Japanese Cinema, Art, & Culture
Language: Japanese English Subtitles

DIRECTOR: Shôhei Imamura
Producer: Goro Kusakabe, Jirô Tomoda
Editor: Toshihiko Kojima, Fusako Matsumoto, Hajime Okayasu, Yoshiko Onodera, Masahito Watanabe
Screenwriter: Shôhei Imamura
Cinematographer: Hiroshi Kanazawa, Shigeru Komatsubara, Masao Tochizawa
Principal Cast: Ken Ogata, Sumiko Sakamoto, Tonpei Hidari, Aki Takejô

The setting of Shôhei Imamura's 1983 drama about self-sacrifice, survival, and the oneness of nature is a remote mountain village in the 19th century. Life is harsh and food is scarce, but in this part of Japan at this time, the people have a solution called ubasute: when any resident of the village reaches the age of 70, he or she is taken in hand by a family member, led up to a secret place on holy Mount Narayama, and left there to die of hunger and exposure. That done, the village will survive.

For the film's heroine, a flinty matriarch called Orin (Sumiko Sakamoto), ubasute makes perfect sense: at age 69 she remains strong and in good health, but she has no intention of holding out beyond her prescribed term of life. So before she climbs Mount Narayama, Orin means to put things on order: she arranges her affairs; she deftly and without emotion punishes a family that has been hoarding food; she even helps her younger son to lose his virginity. Her calm resolve cloaks the film in grace. Imamura's vision of society, drawn from a book of stories by Shichiro Fukazawa, is that the rules are at once brutal and harmonious. If male newborns are abandoned in the ride paddies as a means of population control, so be it; if female infants are retained for possible childbearing, that's part of the plan too. This unblinking portrait of earlier Japanese life, suffused with a cool Zen logic, won the grand prize at Cannes in 1983, and Sakamoto's portrayal of Orin is still regarded as one of the great screen performances of all time.
—BILL GALLO

Homage to Donald Krim (1946–2011)

Founder of Kino International

Introduced by Gary Palmucci

Sponsored by Asian Art Coordinating Council, Consulate General of Japan at Denver, The Japan Foundation, University of—Denver's College of Arts and Media



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