Ballad of Narayama (1983)
Director: Shohei Imamura
The Ballad of Narayama is set in a remote village in Japan. There was a tradition that before a parent reaches the age of 70, the son will bring her on the back to a remote mountain, where she will let die alone, so as not be become a burden to the family in this very deprived village. Orin was 69. She was preparing for her journey. She reminds her son Tatsuhei not to behave like his father, who 30 years ago has evaded the duty of carrying his own mother to the mountain and brought disgrace to the whole family.
20 years after my first viewing of this film I have come to know director Shohei Imamura a little better. I have also paid more attention to the social theme depicted. Besides this mountain ritual, the village also harbors a great deal of brutality, which are often codified into traditions. In this world they are all part of a population control scheme. Just being the second born son relegate one to an underclass who would lose the right to marriage and starting one's own family. The problem of second son is sometimes avoided at the start by infanticide. Far from an idyllic village, this can also be a very ugly place. Scarcity can bring out the worst in human.
The journey into the mountain was long and arduous. As dictated by tradition, mother and son spent the last hours together almost without a word. Still you can see the love between them. She refuse the rice ball offered and insist the son should have it, perhaps just like the old days. The mother settled in the valley with nothing but a straw mat. It was a gracious self-sacrifice that was so moving.
2008.08.15 comments -