Thursday 24 October 2013

The Ballad of Narayama [1983]

Maverick filmmaker Imamurai’s The Ballad of Nayarama, the second interpretation of Shichirō Fukazawa’s novel – Keisuke Kinoshita had adapted it 25 years back was an allegorical and darkly funny, but mostly tragic, account of a place which is a dystopia masked as a utopia. Located in the middle of nowhere and populated with displays of primeval instincts, the tiny godforsaken village is a closed eco-system and follows a bizarre custom – anyone who reaches the age of 70 is carried to an isolated spot in the mountains and is left there to die. Ironically, instead of this being reviled and feared, the elders look forward to this strange tradition, meant to ease the younger generation’s survival. The film’s first two-thirds provided an account of this place in general, and the family of 69 year-old grandmother Orin (startlingly played by Sumiko Sakamoto who was only 40 then) in particular, who is slated to make the trip with his eldest son (Ken Ogata) in a year, while the final third showed the treacherous journey and the harsh fate of the gaggling lady who’s healthier than many younger people. The first section was filled with the quintessential Imamura elements – people belonging to the society’s underbelly, ribald humour, uninhibited displays of baser instincts, and an underlying streak of ironies and social observations that is difficult to miss, and hence the sharp turn of tone to bleak pessimism and harsh realism in the next created a palpable emotional impact. Imamura used the quirky outline to explore man’s propensity for blind obeisance to even the most grotesque and loathsome traditions; and his entomomania, which every Imamura aficionado would be fully aware of, was never left on doubt here.

Director: Shohei Imamura
Genre: Drama/Rural Drama
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan


Sam Juliano said...

Essential Imamura, and you have given this a master class treatment. Magnificently photographed.

Shubhajit said...

Thanks a lot Sam. Imamura's body of work is one to die for, thus making his relative anonymity outside dedicated cinephiles something of a mystery.