Sunday, January 6, 2013

#645: The Ballad of Narayama

(Keisuke Kinoshita, 1958)

Note to Congress, I've got the perfect idea for keeping Social Security and Medicare spending down. You see, in The Ballad of Narayama, when people turn 70 they go up a mountain and die. And when I say "up a mountain," I literally mean they walk up a mountain. This would solve all of our problems! (I should probably point out here, I will not be going up a mountain. Just other non-me old people.)

I don't think this is the point of this story, but it makes for an interesting enough concept behind a 90-minute kabuki-style movie. Kinoshita's sets are unquestionably the star of the film; he uses bright colors, huge painted backdrops, obvious sets that get rolled out and sequestered, and so many diferent fields of view that it can difficult to tell what is 2D and what is 3D in the background. This obvious artifice takes nothing away from the human story being presented, and even though none of these characters are especially memorable, the old woman is kind enough that her journey means something by the end of the film.

The Ballad of Narayama is a pretty film and an interesting one from this aesthetic perspective. But it's not at all comparable to Kinoshita's other Criterion entry, Twenty-Four Eyes, and I'd probably have more interest in Shohei Imamura's version of this story, made nearly three decades later.The melodrama shines through often, and I don't know how thought-provoking the film is. I still enjoyed it, I just don't think its reputation will keep it in the minds of Criterion watchers for very long after its release.


  1. Where did you get a copy of this movie? Did you watch the UK Tartan DVD? Just curious... I hope that Criterion releases a sampling of Kinoshita's other films as an Eclipse Series box set sometime later this year. I suppose that this new release will have to sell fairly well to make that happen though.

  2. I did indeed watch the UK DVD. It looked great, although I'm sure the blu-ray is going to look even better - these sets are really great, they are nearly on the level of some of the stuff in Kwaidan - but of course I liked that movie far more.

    Even though I much preferred Twenty-four Eyes, I did enjoy this movie and would certainly be eager to have more Kinoshita Stateside. His lack of success here when compared with that of his peers is one of those historical quirks - I think he just never had that one movie that broke him through.