Ballad of Narayama (1958)

I had written about this film exactly three years ago and seeing it again proved to be as fascinating. I had shown it to the film group of the time but did not record responses. The membership of the film group was completely different this time and below are the immediate responses of the 8 participants aged between 68 and 97.

▪ Marvellous beautiful haunting film – about a truly terrible idea
▪ Absolutely fascinating. Remarkable that the female lead is made so strong in a      Japanese family. Would like to show it to my Japanese family. Very much about mother/son relationship
▪ Very sad. Thought provoking, made me think of all the old people I have known who wanted to die. My grandmother who said “I have had my time, I have had a good life”, my mother in a her care home saying ” It’s not a life, is it ?”, my brother’s parents-in-laws who asked their doctor if the could not “give them something” because they’d had enough. Liked the slowness, the rituals, the images, all the visual aspects of it.
▪ photography very very beautiful. Music very moving. Found it very painful, it made me think of how my family would deal with my death.
▪ Music hypnotic. Tragedy of how culture can influence people against their will and some compelled to obey.
▪ Intense film. Visually rich – music different way matching the mood. Nature is natural. Treatment of mother unnatural. only makes sense with a religious belief. Other themes : poverty, how to ration in time of scarcity .
▪ A very moving and beautiful film. It is rare experience to see a film about the end of life. The contrast between the two old people’s way of dealing with the end was well done. The landscape and music were both wonderful ways of enhancing the emotional impact of the story. The emotional impact of the mother’s death on her son was heartrending.
▪ A powerful film in a highly stylised treatment. As a westerner I felt removed from   the action in some ways. However the use of music, ‘theatrical’ sets, and ‘stage lighting’ underpinned the set pieces , e.g. the final ascent, very well. Good use of sung narrative, a greek chorus, commentary illuminating and raising moral issues. Fascinating contrast between the old woman and the old man.

For me, Orin’s self-inflicted bloody, toothless mouth grinning at being accepted by the villagers and the Gods as ‘old’ and deserving to die is one of the most powerful  cinematic image in the domain of representation of old women.

The group discussion was very animated, everybody wanting to speak, and a burgeoning debate about assisted suicide had to be curtailed for lack of time.



About rinaross

Born in 1935. MA in Film and Television Studies at the University of Westminster 1998. Studying the representation of older women in film since then.
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