A few films manage to capture the grace of mortality like Shohei Imamura’s this timeless masterpiece. ‘Ballad of Narayama’ is an unusual film that chronicles the life and death of inhabitants of remote village in natural lap of mountain. Its strange mandatory ritual that at reaching age of 70, each villager must be carried over a rugged mountain path to reach the burial ground on summit and left there to die. The film captures the unforgettable journey of embracing the death in strange way.
The film’s first half shows us dark glimpse of life of a matriarch family run by an old lady. Imamura represents the hardships, natural calamity and basic human instincts of the characters that run parallel to the wildlife. The copulation of snakes, toads and other wild and imagery intermittently serve as filler to show us uncontrolled primal instinctual natural urges. The film has many sexually explicit scenes and Imamura showed it so unsparingly. The first half is full of such sadistic and surreal tones which on one hand showing the brutal hand to mouth existence and focus on a sexually frustrated young son who didn’t mind getting relief from a dog when unable to get a woman.
But it’s the last 30 minutes of the film which makes it an absolutely humane drama. It is visually and emotionally poetic high of the film where an oldest son carries his mother on Mount Narayama and witnesses the shocking sight on the top; too despicable to let his aged mother die. After emotional parting, he witnessed another man following the same ritual till half way and then lurks back to the corrupt human nature when nobody is there to watch you whether you did it sincere spirituality or not. After witnessing this tragedy, the son returns once again to his mother on top to let her know about snowfall, considered as blessing of God in the last moments of her life.
The film is beautifully portrayed and it has moments of timelessness; the reasons why it managed to win Palme d’Or in 1983. Need I rate this?