Friday, July 01, 2016

Narayama bushiko / The Ballad of Narayama (1958) (2012 digital restoration by Shochiku)

The Ballad of Narayama (1958). In the poster image: Tatsuhei (Teiji Takahashi) takes his mother Orin (Kinuyo Tanaka) to the mountain to die.

楢山節考 / La ballata di Narayama.
    JP 1958. D: Keisuke Kinoshita. Story: based on the novel by Shichiro Fukazawa. Cinematography: Hiroshi Kusuda. ED: Yoshi Sugihara. AD: Kisaku Ito, Chiyoo Umeda. M: Rokuzaemon Kineya, Matsunosuke Nozawa.
    C: Kinuyo Tanaka (Orin), Teiji Takahashi (Tatsuhei), Yuko Mochizuki (Tamayan), Eijiro Tono (il fratello di Tamayan), Seiji Miyaguchi (Matayan), Yunosuke Ito (il figlio di Matayan), Danko Ichikawa (Kesakichi), Keiko Ogasawara (Matsuyan).
    P: Shochiku. [The film was not released in Finland]. DCP. Col. 98 min
    Fujicolor, Shochiku Grandscope 2,35:1
    Restored in 2012 by Shochiku
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna
    Richness and Harmony. Colour Film in Japan (part two)
    DCP with English subtitles from Shochiku
    E-subtitles by Sub-Ti Londra
    Cinema Jolly, 1 July 2016

Alexander Jacoby, Johan Nordström (Bologna catalog): "Having helmed Japan’s first full-colour feature, Kinoshita became something of an expert in the new medium, as witness this extraordinary fable shot in exquisite and experimental Fuji- color, shown to best advantage here in a new digital restoration. Recounting a story based on a traditional legend about a community requiring its elderly people to go away to die on a mountain on reaching the age of seventy, Kinoshita, working in the age of postwar liberal humanism, fashioned a critique of traditional culture, but also expressed a sympathetic understanding of patterns of thought and feeling in the imagined community he depicts."

"The film draws deliberately on the style and atmosphere of classical Japanese theatre. Keiko McDonald writes: “Using a wide screen and taking particular care with colour, spotlighting, curtains and sets, [Kinoshita] recreated the atmosphere of the classical Kabuki stage – even its blackhooded kurogo, which Kinoshita introduces as stagehands conventionally ‘invisible’”. Colour, she notes, is used in the film “to signal shifts in psychology”. Kinoshita himself declared, “This is my first work in which I tried a unique manner of presentation and colourization based on the Japanese traditional artistic style”. The great actress Kinuyo Tanaka gives a stunning performance in the lead role. Her dedication as a performer is exemplified by the scene where she sells her teeth; for the sake of realism, it is said that she had several of her own front teeth removed. Teiji Takahashi, playing her son, lost 15 kilos of weight during the shooting."

"Kinoshita’s colour experimentation did not end with this film; in Fuefukigawa (The River Fuefuki, 1960), he established mood by applying vivid strokes of colour to monochrome footage. A quarter of a century later, the story of The Ballad of Narayama was retold, in a contrasting style of harsh realism, by Shohei Imamura in his film of the same name, which scooped the Palme d’Or at Cannes." – Alexander Jacoby, Johan Nordström

AA: This first film adaptation of Shichiro Fukazawa's novel is the diametrical opposite to Shohei Imamura's naturalistic interpretation. Keisuke Kinoshita's version is boldly stylized, and there is an atmosphere of a ritual and ceremony in it. There is also so much song and music that there is an aspect of the musical.

The subject is the mythical practice of ubasute (obasute, oyasute, 姥捨て): in the distant past, in conditions of poverty, a very old parent was taken to the mountain to die in a form of euthanasia.

As Alexander Jacoby and Johan Nordström state above, Kinuyo Tanaka's performance is powerful as the old mother. Her transformation is so total that I had a hard time recognizing in her the vibrant star of Kenji Mizoguchi and many others.

Keisuke Kinoshita and his cinematographer Hiroshi Kushuda use Fujicolor in the Shochiku Grandscope format without inhibition. The maple leaves are burning red in the autumn. The field is shining in gold in harvest time. There is an emphasis on bright colour until in the finale the mountain top is full of skeletons and black vultures, and finally snow covers everything.

There are powerful performances and visions in the film, but the sense of duration is overstated and the long journey is needlessly prolonged.

The digital restoration is fine.

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