Ballad of Narayama

Shohei Imamura, Japan, 1983, 130 minutes

The great legacy of Japanese cinema finds in Imamura a gifted heir. From Mizogushi and Ozu to Kurosawa and Oshima, Japanese film-making has created a whole tradition which has acquired universal acclaim due to its immense insight and contribution to world cinema. Imamura retains and above all preserves most of the elements typical of the Japanese cinematic culture, having already created some astonishing pieces of work. From the magnificent The Profund Desire of the Gods to Eijanaika and his latest compelling Black Rain (not to be confused with Ridley Scott's film) Imamura has already established himself as Japan's finest contemporary director.

The Balled of Narayama is an exemplary feature of Imamura's cinematic genre. Indeterminately set in the past, it highlights the traditions and mores of an isolated mountainous village which dictate to a seventy-year old widow that she has to go up to the mountain and await her death. This does not inhibit her from concerning herself with the future of her sons. One has to find a new wife since he's widowed, another hasn't been with a woman before, and the third one needs to be taught manners. The director focuses on the processes by which she attempts to realize these tasks in juxtaposition with her obligation to the laws of her community.

All the strengths of Imamura's previous films achieve here a strange functional unity, while the primitive humour combined with the characteristic Japanese witticism and explicit eroticism make The Ballad of Narayama a fascinating amalgam of valuable insights into an alien culture.

Review by Spiros Gangas
Taken from EUFS Programme 1992-93