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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Narayama Bushiko (aka The Ballad Of Narayama) (1958)

In a small Japanese mountain village, it is the tradition that once a person turns 70 years of age that they are taken to the top of a mountain called Narayama and left to die. As one woman (Kinuyo Tanaka) approaches her time, she embraces it while her son (Teiji Takahasi) and new daughter in law (Yuko Mochizuki) have great difficulty with the savage tradition. Keisuke Kinoshita's film is an extremely stylized work. It is presented Kabuki style (there's even a curtain raising before the film proper begins) and the dramatic studio bound sets only emphasis the formality of the piece. This is a blessing. It's hard for the Western mind to wrap itself around the concept of abandoning its elders to the elements so a more realistic style would be extremely uncomfortable. I haven't seen the Shohei Imamura remake which apparently presents the story naturally and I don't think I want to. But this is visually a stunning film. The production design of Kisaku Ito and the art direction of Chiyoo Umeda are amazing. Even if one disliked the film, I can't imagine not taking pleasure in each ravishing wide screen composition by Hiroyuki Kusuda. With Danko Ichikawa as the ungrateful grandson, Keiko Ogasawara and Eijiro Tono.

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