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The Ballad of Narayama (1983)

Narayama bushikô (original title)
Not Rated | | Drama | 29 April 1983 (Japan)
In a poor 19th century rural Japanese village, everyone who reaches the age of 70 has to climb a nearby mountain to die. An old woman is getting close to the cut-off age, and we follow her last days with her family.

Director:

Shôhei Imamura

Writers:

Shôhei Imamura (screenplay), Shichirô Fukazawa (novel)
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9 wins & 8 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Ken Ogata Ken Ogata ... Tatsuhei
Sumiko Sakamoto Sumiko Sakamoto ... Orin
Tonpei Hidari Tonpei Hidari ... Risuke
Aki Takejô Aki Takejô ... Tamayan
Shôichi Ozawa Shôichi Ozawa ... Katsuzô
Fujio Tokita Fujio Tokita ... Jinsaku
Sanshô Shinsui Sanshô Shinsui ... Zeniya no Tadayan
Seiji Kurasaki Seiji Kurasaki ... Kesakichi
Junko Takada Junko Takada ... Matsuyan
Mitsuko Baishô Mitsuko Baishô ... Oei
Taiji Tonoyama ... Teruyan
Casey Takamine Casey Takamine ... Arayashiki (as Kêshi Takamine)
Nenji Kobayashi Nenji Kobayashi ... Tsune
Nijiko Kiyokawa Nijiko Kiyokawa ... Okane
Akio Yokoyama Akio Yokoyama ... Amaya
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Storyline

In a small village in a valley everyone who reaches the age of 70 must leave the village and go to a certain mountain top to die. If anyone should refuse he or she would disgrace their family. Old Orin is 69. This winter it is her turn to go to the mountain. But first she must make sure that her eldest son Tatsuhei finds a wife. Written by Mattias Thuresson

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

Only time could change the cruelty of tradition ... only their Love could survive it ... See more »

Genres:

Drama

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

Japan

Language:

Japanese

Release Date:

29 April 1983 (Japan) See more »

Also Known As:

The Ballad of Narayama See more »

Filming Locations:

Niigata, Japan See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Toei Company See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider. See more »

Connections

Referenced in The Great Grateful Jizo See more »

Soundtracks

Risuke no uta
Written by Hitoshi Machida
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

A Truly Unforgettable Film
12 August 2002 | by howard.schumannSee all my reviews

Death and what it means is the theme of the haunting and sensuous Ballad of Narayama, a Cannes Film Festival Grand prize winner from 1982 by Shohei Imamaura (Black Rain, The Eel, Dr. Akagi). Based on a novel by Shichiro Fukazawa, this spellbinding film takes place in a rural mountainous area in northern Japan about one hundred years ago. Because the villager's rice crop is meager and starvation is a chronic threat, according to village custom, the elderly must go to die on the summit of Mount Narayama when they reach the age of 70. Group survival depends on it and death is accepted as a fact of life in the village.

I must admit I had a hard time during the first hour being engaged with this film and sorting out all the characters. I found the graphic depiction of the cruel realities of village life to be ugly and often vulgar. For example, one character has sex with a village dog, an entire family is buried alive because they have been accused of stealing, and two snakes copulate next to a couple's sexual encounter in the woods. As the film progressed, however, I found it easier to accept how the brutal struggle for survival ensures continuance and self-preservation.

The story concerns Orin (Sumiko Sakamota) who, in her seventieth year, must complete all the loose ends in her life before she goes to die. One widowed son must find a new wife, another has to sleep with a woman for the first time, and the third needs to be taught manners. When Orin realizes it is her time to be taken to Narayama, her son Tatsuhei (Ken Ogata) carries his mother to the mountain on his back in scenes of ethereal beauty reminiscent of Sokurov's Mother and Son. The resistance of Tatsuhei to his mother's death is familiar, yet nonetheless deeply moving. At the end of the journey, Orin clings to her resolve with tenacity and reconciliation to the inevitable. Sitting on the mountain close to her God, she is rewarded by the sudden grace of the silent snow.

Watching Ballad of Narayama I was forced to confront my own feelings about the morality of suicide. Both during and since viewing the film, I have been haunted by the idea of a loved one slowly freezing to death on a mountain--for my benefit. Although I do not approve of taking one's life as a general ethic, I found Imamura's conception to be so deeply human that it became both tragic and immensely moving. The film functions on a level well beyond pat moralizing, showing the extremes that people will go to out of love for each other, and the grace that can be bestowed on such acts of sacrifice. It is truly unforgettable.


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