THE BALLAD OF NARAYAMA (Shohei Imamura, 1983)

The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Asian Films list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis

The opening shot of Shohei Imamura’s Narayama bushiko is cunning. Accompanying a caption that sets the action in nineteenth-century northern Japan, the camera reveals vast terrain: miles of snow-covered trees. It’s a helicopter shot!—and the visual implication of this modern contraption draws our attention to something else that might otherwise have remained “invisible”: the camera it is transporting. All this has the effect of wittily collapsing the distance in time of about a hundred years. Imamura’s study of greed, the sex impulse and the survival instinct in a remote, wintry, primitive community thus will be, in reality, a reflection on how these elements still structure human behavior and activity.
     Orin is 69. At 70, elders in this village trek to Mount Narayama to die, thereby relieving the impoverished community of their burden. It is time for Orin to put her hut in order. Son Tatsuhei must get a wife!
     The hard work of farming, as well as other aspects of life in this community (such as Tatsuhei’s sexual encounters), are interrupted by inserted closeups of Nature: bugs and snakes copulating; a snake, later an owl, devouring a rodent. The villagers are always one bad harvest away from disaster, but winter keeps some of them warmer than others. Food, scarce, is precious, and when one of them steals crops the village comes together as an avenging mob, burying alive the offender and his entire family. Otherwise, “we will get no sleep,” “he will steal again.”
     The film’s last movement enchants. Orin has turned 70, and Tatsuhei carries her, piggyback, to her last end. She accepts this, as she must; wild animals cross their silent path. Spirits animate a tree, bringing it to sparkling life. It is the spirit of Orin. It is the ballad of Narayama.

B(U)Y THE BOOK

MY BOOK, A Short Chronology of World Cinema, IS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE FROM THE SANDS FILMS CINEMA CLUB IN LONDON. USING EITHER OF THE LINKS BELOW, ACCESS THE ADVERTISEMENT FOR THIS BOOK, FROM WHICH YOU CAN ORDER ONE OR MORE COPIES OF IT. THANKS.

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Dennis+Grunes&x=14&y=16

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Dennis+Grunes&x=14&y=19

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s