At 69, Orin is the matriarch of her family. She has stronger teeth than most of the villagers. She knows where to catch the fattest trout and pick the freshest fern sprouts. And she insists that she must exchange village life for her fate on the mountain. This story, which at first seems a predetermined tragedy, transforms itself into a complex triumph thanks to director Shohei Imamura's depiction of village life. This is a trashy town, full of the most callous, self-absorbed people ever to live amid natural splendor (or outside of a John Waters movie).
Imamura began his career as an assistant to the great painterly Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu. His ingrained penchant for strong, classical images anchors The Ballad of Narayama (Narayama bushiko) in majestic beauty even as the characters degrade it. Many of Imamura's earlier films, such as The Pornographers and Vengeance Is Mine, aggressively portray a post-war Japanese society that has traded tradition-based moral decency for amoral modernity. In the 1983 Palme d'Or-winning The Ballad of Narayama, Imamura moves beyond mere depiction. He delves into the conditions of the human spirit that make such exchanges possible.
Orin's insistence on her death-duty gradually emerges as the single shining light of personal conviction in a village filled with impoverished expediency. Even Orin's son's reluctance to carry his mother to the mountain reveals his dependency more than any sense of love. As the townspeople fornicate, murder and muck around, Orin's story questions the value of living itself. (Not Rated)