THE BALLAD OF NARAYAMA (Keisuke Kinoshita, 1958)

Whereas Shohei Imamura’s Narayama bushiko (1983) is more anthropological, Keisuke Kinoshita’s earlier version of the ancient legends and Shichirô Fukazawa’s twentieth-century stories primarily reflects on Japanese traits, such as traditionalism and submissive obedience, that led to the Second World War and the world’s—or at least the U.S.’s—atomic rebuke. Kinoshita’s film took three Kinema Junpo awards: best film, director and actress, the last for Kinuyo Tanaka as Orin, who, approaching 70, must prepare for her transport up the mountain so as to relieve village poverty and hunger by her death.
     Imamura’s film is, of course, a masterpiece—one of Japan’s greatest films. Not so Kinoshita’s, which is crude and rudimentary in every regard, including even Tanaka’s performance, which is hampered by her “playing old” and her unconvincing old-age makeup. The rest of the acting is worse. Sets, color cinematography, lighting—everything seems stilted, artificial, unconvincing. The music could have been used by the Bush II administration as an unusually effective torture technique. The obtrusive narrator would have been just as effective.
     There is no real penetration of the conflict between traditional imperatives and familial feeling, but the story itself is sufficiently involving to lend some interest to Kinoshita’s film.

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