Adapted from the novel of the same name, The Ballad of Narayama happens in a small, remote Japanese village in the mountains where survival rules over compassion. I’m not very sure but it seems the movie is set a century ago where people try to survive in brutal conditions.
Orin is approaching her 70th birthday and is now looking forward to her trip to Narayama. One of the village’s customs says that once a person reaches 70 years of age, they are to be taken to Narayama, a secret, mystical place high up the mountains where they are to die. She now tries her best to settle the affairs of his sons before she leaves.
It’s a movie I found difficult to watch. I for one get bored easily and if the first scenes don’t catch my attention right away, I’d stop watching. However, I continued with the film to avoid another unproductive weekend. (Well, if watching this would mean being productive!) In the first few minutes was a scene where the corpse of a baby is found in the rice paddy. There was also a scene where Orin deliberately bashed her mouth to a kind of stoneware knocking out some of her teeth (Ouch!) because she thinks her sons might not want to send her up to Narayama if she still looks healthy. Another would be Risuke’s (Orin’s youngest son) exploits with a dog (Eeewww!), he has never been with a woman before. This scene was one among the several which were probably necessary to emphasize how the people at that time were desperate to escape the hellish life they’re living and finding solace in the smallest (or weirdest) of comforts.
Orin never questioned her fate however hard it is. She believes there’s an order and purpose to it. No one can question her fidelity to gods and tradition. And so when she was able to tie all loose ends, she prepared herself for the journey to Narayama. She intended to go in time with the first snow fall as she believes that it’s a sign that her death has been blessed by the gods. The last half an hour or so was nearly wordless but captivating.
What left me thinking about after the film though was the idea that the family or the community matters more and thus must be served/followed more. Orin understood this perfectly and abides by the law/tradition without fear. I’m left appalled because I for one glorify individualism. I think it’s harsh to be governed by such mores. And it would have been interesting to have Tatsuhei’s father in the film because he questioned some of the laws/customs in their village which is why he refused to take his mother to Narayama.
The end felt empty for me. With Orin disappearing then reappearing again, kind of went away from the consistent objective approach in the film. Though this practice of going to Narayama was regarded as sacred, it also seemed useless as much as I have seen. I would’ve preferred if the story kept its indifferent tone to the end.
Has anyone of you watched The Ballad of Narayama? I would love to know your thoughts about it and perhaps understand and appreciate the film more. There are probably things I didn’t quite understand and watching movies aren’t really my thing. But still, I’d recommend you watch it.