Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Ballad of Narayama

Narayama Bushiko; Drama, Japan, 1983; D: Shohei Imamura, S: Ken Ogata, Sumiko Sakamoto, Tonpei Hidari, Aki Takejo

A small Japanese village, 19th century. The 45-year old Tatsuhei is widowed and has two kids. His brother Risuke is nicknamed "Smelly" due to his odor and is thus still a virgin, sometimes even easing sexual desire with a dog. Dead babies are sometimes used as manure while a whole family can sometimes be buried alive if they steal food. There is also a long tradition that says when a person reaches 70, he or she must go up a mountain to die there. Tatsuhei's mother Orin is 69 and spends the last few months finding him a new wife, Tamayan, and helping Risuke lose his virginity. During winter, Tatsuhei carries his mother on his back up to the montain, where they depart.

"I like to make messy films...I am interested in the relationship of the lower part of the human body and the lower part of the social structure," director Shohei Imamoura once said. His inclination at showing the "inconvenient" side of human nature that is often avoided pretty much gives a reference point to his unknown Golden Palm winner, "The Ballad of Narayama", which contains more vulgarity than all of "American Pie" movies put together, yet still manages to make it look realistic and ambitious. It is a dirty, ville, brutal and disgusting depiction of ancient Japan that displays how "good old traditions" don't always have to be something good, pushing his dark theme that humans are also animals (i.e. scenes of snakes or frogs copulating intervened with a couple having sex) equipped with a few amazing images of nature (a hunter shoots a rabbit with a gun, but just then an eagle flies by and "steals it"). However, the movie is much more engaging in the last quarter, where the protagonist is carrying his 70-year old mother to the top of the mountain where, according to the tradition, they will part forever - which is probably so emotional because it acts like an exceptional rough beauty as opposed to the ugly mood presented up to it - than in director's "cockroach" approach for the rest of his disgusting characters, which seems excessive and placed just for shock value.


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