The Ballad of Narayama (楢山節考 / Narayama-bushi Kō) (1958)

  • October 23, 2022 | 2:00 PM - 3:40 PM | Sunday
  • Oldham Theatre


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Director: Keisuke Kinoshita
Runtime: 98 minutes
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Rating: PG (Some Disturbing Scenes)

Ubasute is an ancient mythical Japanese practice that involves the abandonment of an elderly relative in a desolate area, where they are left to perish. Centred on this dark custom, Shichirō Fukazawa’s novella The Ballad of Narayama, is the basis for Keisuke Kinoshita’s film of the same title. Aged mother Orin (Kinuyo Tanaka) and her son Tatsuhei are pressured by their community to carry out this ritual senicide, despite Orin’s evident good health and vigour. Fusing the formal conventions of a Kabuki theatre with cinematic techniques, Kinoshita employs meticulously designed soundstages, dramatic lighting, traditional joruri narration and samisen instrumentation, to heightened expressionistic effect. 

Among the most harrowing scenes of the film is when Orin—desperate to look her age and overcome the judgement of fellow villagers who disparage her for her youthful looks—violently bashes her teeth out with a stone. In a shocking example of fierce dedication to her craft, Tanaka, who was 48 years old, actually had four of her teeth extracted just  to convincingly play a character almost 20 years older!  


Retrospective: Kinuyo Tanaka is held in conjunction with Japanese Film Festival Singapore, and has been made possible with the generous support of the Japan Foundation.

For the full Retrospective: Kinuyo Tanaka programme, please visit here.

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