A joruri narrator clad in raven black introduces us to Narayama Bushiko as heavy curtains reveal the backdrop of a tribal village. In the kabuki tradition, the samisen ballad speaks of a kind elderly woman, Orin, who is contemplating her ascent to Mount Narayama. This most stylized work by Kinoshita is also his most dramatically theatrical, replete with meticulously designed soundstages and dramatic lighting. A haunting allegory that shows the conflict between filial duty, tradition and social pressure, the same story was remade by Imamura Shohei decades later, but the original remains a startling, culturally resonant magnum opus. —Festival de Cannes
Universally considered one of the greatest Japanese directors, Keisuke Kinoshita worked almost his entire career for Shochiku, the Japanese studio that also housed Yasujiro Ozu. Shochiku was that studio most devoted to what the Japanese call shomin-geki, stories of everyday life; yet while Ozu developed a rigorous, austere style that he perfected from film to film, Kinoshita was constantly changing, challenging himself to adapt to new subject matter and ways of storytelling. The director of Japan’s first color feature film, the charming musical satire Carmen Comes Home, could move just a few months later on to the bold experimentation just a few months later of A Japanese Tragedy, a work whose jumbled timeframe and insertion of newsreel footage anticipates the modernist films of the Sixties. He made bold use of traditional Japanese art forms such as kabuki (The Ballad of Narayama) and brush painting (The River Fuefuki), but could… read more
Keisuke Kinoshita's breathtaking tale of the Japanese legend of Obasute, in which village elders must be taken to die atop Mount Narayama when they reach the age of 70, is a haunting exploration of strict adherence to tradition and the neverending cycle of mortality. Staged in the tradition of Kabuki theatre, the film is shot completely on sound stages, as if it were a filmed play, finding beauty in artifice.