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The Ballad of Narayama (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] (1958)

Kinuyo Tanaka , Teiji Takahashi , Keisuke Kinoshita  |  NR |  Blu-ray
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Kinuyo Tanaka, Teiji Takahashi, Yuko Mochizuki, Danko Ichikawa, Keiko Ogasawara
  • Directors: Keisuke Kinoshita
  • Format: Blu-ray, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: Japanese
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region A/1 (Read more about DVD/Blu-ray formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • DVD Release Date: February 5, 2013
  • Run Time: 98 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #56,788 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Special Features

  • New 4K digital master from the 2011 restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Trailer and teaser
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Philip Kemp

  • Editorial Reviews

    This haunting, kabuki-inflected version of a Japanese folk legend is set in a remote mountain village, where food is scarce and tradition dictates that citizens who have reached their seventieth year must be carried to the summit of Mount Narayama and left there to die. The sacrificial elder at the center of the tale is Orin (Ugetsu’s Kinuyo Tanaka), a dignified and dutiful woman who spends her dwindling days securing the happiness of her loyal widowed son with a respectable new wife. Filmed almost entirely on cunningly designed studio sets, in brilliant color and widescreen, The Ballad of Narayama is a stylish and vividly formal work from Japan’s cinematic golden age, directed by the dynamic Keisuke Kinoshita (Twenty-four Eyes).

    Customer Reviews

    Most Helpful Customer Reviews
    22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars What is the Meaning of Life ... or Death? January 27, 2013
    Quite a few Asian films - Korean, Japanese, Chinese - explore the meaning of old age and specifically the cycle of life. This is one of the great themes of this film. The essential fact of this movie is that, through custom (and religion), the parents who reach age 70 are to leave the society and meet their end on the top of the Mountain Narayama. In a sense, it is both frightening and sacred. The cycle of life continues with the younger generation.

    Everyone who sees this provocative movie will talk about its striking visual beauty. But more importantly, it strikes a nerve - how should society allocate its scarce resources. Ironically, the fact that the old are left to die by exposure is not necessarily a statement that the elders are not valued by the society. The old are valued...but they need to recognize their function in letting the young take their place. The act of death, therefore, becomes a sacred rite. This is very vividly presented in the last frames.

    I am glad that this visually arresting film is now available in Blu-Ray. While the movie was remade by Imamura Shohei, I actually prefer the striking sets of this film over the more naturalistic settings of the other.

    This is a thinking person's film. It also depicts in visual form a very primitive society, letting us have a picture of what the world must have looked like 10,000 years ago.
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    8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
    A long time ago in Japan, there was a custom practiced in poor and mountainous regions during a time of drought or famine. That practice is known as "Ubasute", in which a relative carries an elderly family member to the mountain or a remote, desolate area to be left there to die.

    Because of the tough times and families were struggling to feed everyone, it was a custom that was mandated by feudal officials.

    And the custom has been featured in Japanese folklore passed down from generation after generation. Songs about a relative carrying an elderly on their back, while the elderly would snap twigs, so the relative will no how to get back home.

    The practice of Ubasute would be explored in the 1958 film "The Ballad of Narayama" (Narayama bushiko), written and directed by Keisuke Kinoshita ("Twenty-Four Eyes", "Morning for the Osone Family", "The River Fuefuki", to name a few).

    The film was remade in 1983 by director Shohei Imamura, who showed a brutal depiction of how villagers were at the time, the Imamura is a film best known in the West especially for winning the Palme d'Or at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival.

    But while the 1983 film receives a lot of attention, the 1958 Kinoshita film is remarkable on its own, as it is a kabuki-inflected version of a Japanese folk legend. Featuring beautifully designed sets and wonderful cinematic work from that golden age, it's one of the highlights in the oeuvre of Keisuke Kinoshita's cinematic career.


    "The Ballad of Narayama" is a 1958 film that looks gorgeous thanks to the restoration done in 2011. Colors look amazing, no flickering, there were light artifacts but I was amazed because the picture quality looked nearly pristine for its age.
    Read more ›
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    11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars A Brutal and Beautiful Tale of Old Age February 26, 2013
    Format:Blu-ray|Verified Purchase
    This is the more beautiful of two adaptations of the same story. Director Keisuke Kinoshita used traditional Japanese Kabuki theater as visual inspiration for a stunning story of generational tension in a small village (the other adaptation of this story is the far more realistic and brutal The Ballad of Narayama ).

    The plot involves three generations of a household: the aged Orin who is the matriarch of the household, her son Tatsuhei, and his son--a completely self-absorbed teenager--Kesakichi. The village tradition dictates that elderly parents are carried into the mountains and left there to die, so that the younger generations have a better chance to survive.

    However this family problematizes tradition because Orin is in great health, as evidenced by her full set of teeth. Orin is eager to carry out the tradition, counting down the days until her trip to Narayama. But her son, Tatsuhei, is deeply attached to his mother and does not want her to die. Her Grandson, Kesakichi, is wretched and taunts Orin, regularly demanding that she make the trip to her grave. Kesakichi's comically bovine wife, Matsu, is excited for Orin's death because there will be more food for them once Granny's out of the way.

    The story and color is beautiful and tragic. The highly stylized sets contribute to the sense of watching a stage production. Even with these layers to remove the viewer from the tragic events unfolding, this viewer was completely caught in the story.

    As usual, the Criterion Collection edition comes with nice extras:
    ---New 4K digital master from the 2011 restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
    ---Trailer and teaser
    ---New English subtitle translation
    ---PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Philip Kemp
    Comment | 
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    3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful cinematography March 22, 2013
    By Justin
    Format:Blu-ray|Verified Purchase
    The movie is presented in the form of a play, with sets transitioning cleverly before your eyes and a score playing almost entirely constantly. Instead of using cutscenes, walls and buildings move, the sky changes color, and things are brought in and out of focus -- this was all obviously thought out extremely carefully. The characters are easy to identify with, and the sets are quirky and cute. The singing can get a little old at times, but it sort of helps bring in the dreary effect...fitting for a movie about abandonment.

    I bought this as a blind buy during a sale and couldn't be happier.

    BluRay PQ is great, there are some scenes that are really soft but that is the exception. I watched this on my 60" HDTV and there was phenomenal detail throughout the film.

    Audio track isn't anything too ambitious, but sounded okay on my system. No pops, hisses, etc., as with basically all Criterion releases.
    Comment | 
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    Most Recent Customer Reviews
    1.0 out of 5 stars Does not work
    In spite that this blu ray is zone A, mi BR player does not play it showing the phrase: Mismatch between BR zone and DVD player's zone.
    Published 2 months ago by Luis Diaz Soffia
    5.0 out of 5 stars Yes! and now in blu-ray
    I understand that the blu-ray version was made from the 4K Japanese version, so the quality is excellent. Criterion really cleaned up this 1958 classic. Read more
    Published 6 months ago by W. M. Denny
    5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting treatment of parental death
    This film is haunting, not only because of the subject matter, death of a parent, but also because of the use of traditional Japanese music and the cinematography that draws you in... Read more
    Published 7 months ago by leslie Yamada
    4.0 out of 5 stars Looks like a play with the sets...
    This movie is filmed on a movie set-Well done but looks likes a movie sound set. Lots of singing. Fantastic story though, many life lessons. Read more
    Published 12 months ago by Joseph C. Martinak
    5.0 out of 5 stars Loved this.
    A very thought provoking movie. I loved the grandma, the most important character who teaches about life, love, generosity, thanksgiving and finally misguided sacrifice to get out... Read more
    Published 12 months ago by Gail A. Jo
    3.0 out of 5 stars Suffers From Culture Differences ??
    I say that in spite of the style the film is done in because I find myself "bored to tears" at (various points in) other Japanese movies. Read more
    Published 13 months ago by C. Evans
    4.0 out of 5 stars deep
    this deep and moving drama with its insights into ancient Japan will stay with you forever. the production values are extremely interesting and produce an effect somewhere between... Read more
    Published 13 months ago by John Banta
    2.0 out of 5 stars The Original is Fantascit
    To be honest I have not seen this version of the Film. I read that it is not the original. I can commment on the original film only. Read more
    Published 14 months ago by Gary`
    2.0 out of 5 stars Not the original Ballad movie I saw
    Has anybody ever noticed? This is NOT the same movie that won the Palme d'Or at Cannes! The cast and director are different. Read more
    Published 14 months ago by Kris L.
    5.0 out of 5 stars Film as Art
    The other reviewers covered this masterpiece of film art. In context of film as art and that art preceeds society, I believe it is poignant to write that in January 2013 the new... Read more
    Published 14 months ago by FilmViewer
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