• It is worth noting that in at least one year during the prime of Ozu and Kurosawa, it is Keisuke Kinoshita who made the best Japanese film of the year (Equinox Flower for Ozu and The Hidden Fortress for Kurosawa in 1958).
  • It was famously dismissed (and debated) by some at Cahiers du Cinéma for the vast departure from realism in the world Kinoshita built (which feels like judging it on the merit of its black and white photography (it is in color)).
  • Set in a remote village, Kinuyo Tanaka (playing way older, and she is fantastic here) plays Orin. Orin is approaching 70-years old and in this village the tradition is that the elders are carried up to a mountain and left to die.

In wide 2.35 : 1 Shochiku Grandscope The Ballad of Narayama is one of the great triumphs of cinematic color in the 1950s.

  • Shohei Imamura made this film in 1983 as well.

Kabuki theater influence, sung narration—and the music is very heavy throughout including the Shamisen instrument. The title of the film is true- it is a ballad.

  • The sets are meticulously, and beautifully designed. This is Wes Anderson’s diorama. Even the autumnal colors seem to predict Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). Kinoshita even uses very bracketed and controlled tracking shots and camera movements (like Wes). In one scene at the cemetery, he rolls right, then forward. The stones are flanked (carefully arranged of course- symmetrical) by the flowers. Kinoshita keeps it largely at a medium-long shot distance to enjoy the details of the mise-en-scene. It is not just a painted backdrop either, there’s depth to the diorama, and his camera is often moving behind items like tree branches and wooden structures.

The maple leaves at the 36-minute at breathtaking—though Kinoshita has a patchy and misguide use of slow-motion in a few spots (including this one—seemingly he wanted to luxuriate on these leaves and stay there with the slow-motion and I can’t blame him).

The way the younger generation treats the elders is explored again and again by Ozu of course. It isn’t pure cruelty either, there is a tradition (however strange), pride, and there is the issue of poverty with many of the villagers on the edge of starvation.

  • For many of the scene transitions, Kinoshita moves the entire set—he drops the lights, and essentially cut without cutting- fascinating.
  • The camera slides behind the doors completely for a tracking shot at the 23-minute mark
  • Orin is a genuinely good woman- a matriarch who catches trout and feeds another elderly vagrant (ostracized from his family).

At the 33-minute mark a red filter is used as blood is exposed flash of bold style

  • Production designer Kisaku Itô also worked with Mizoguchi including Ugetsu (1953). This is quite an accomplishment for Itô here. There’s a pink-lit sky background, in another scene there are splashes of a bright green.

The film meditates on tribalism, ritual—in another scene a man is caught stealing and the village gangs up on them taking from them— an ugly look at humanity.

A prolonged shot with characters arranged in a row. Orin is on the left with her son and there are six characters off to the right in a row accentuating the wide frame.

The climatic (and tragic) ascent to the mountain is shot, largely, without dialogue. They do the trip twice really, once without snow (on the way up) and once with snow (on the way down)—awesome detail in the entire arrangement of the set.

  • A Must-See/Masterpiece film