Review: ‘Naran’

Naran Ganboldin Baasankhuu Father Adilbishinn Dashpiljee Mother Namjilpansaniin Sarantuy Grandfather Dzunduin Galsandandzan Grandmother Myagmarin Rentsenhand Enkh Dorjsurengiin Gantumur Batu Dashnyamin Tserendash Tuyaa Hishigdorjin Arjunaa Tumur Surenjabin Munkhbaatar Altaa Ganboldin Dulguun

Naran Ganboldin Baasankhuu Father Adilbishinn Dashpiljee Mother Namjilpansaniin Sarantuy Grandfather Dzunduin Galsandandzan Grandmother Myagmarin Rentsenhand Enkh Dorjsurengiin Gantumur Batu Dashnyamin Tserendash Tuyaa Hishigdorjin Arjunaa Tumur Surenjabin Munkhbaatar Altaa Ganboldin Dulguun

A warm, nuanced exploration of Mongolia’s nomadic society, “Naran” is a captivating blend of family drama and scenic travelogue. Japanese helmer Makoto Shiina, also a prolific author, has crafted a visually sumptuous snapshot of a culture vitually unknown to most Western viewers and manages to balance the almost documentary-like material with a small-scale, likable story about one Mongolian family. But the slow pacing and way-off-the-beaten-track setting will restrict pic’s aud to specialist screenings internationally.

Naran is a 7-year-old boy in a family of six kids, and pic opens with him and his siblings returning home from their city school to the family farm for summer holidays. The nomadic family then packs up all its belongings and hits the road , with horses, camels and sheep in tow.

Naran is devoted to his small white horse and spends much of his time galloping across the country-side on it. There is little in the way of strong plot development, with pic focusing instead on the day-to-day life of this closely knit family as members shop from the mobile department store, ride horses, take care of the sheep and sing traditional songs.

One day the little boy meets a minstrel sitting in a field in the middle of nowhere, and the musician relates the mythological tale of Sukh and his white horse. Sukh wins the Naadam horse race, but the nefarious local ruler steals the man’s horse, only to later have it shot full of arrows. The old tale has Naran in tears, and he vows to take his own horse to compete in the same race, which still exists. Pic climaxes with the race itself.

There isn’t much story, but pic maintains interest throughout thanks to Shiina’s attention to the details of this exotic lifestyle and strong naturalistic perfs from the all-Mongolian cast. Ganboldin Baasankhuu, who plays Naran, is particularly impressive, lighting up the screen with his charming presence.

Kenji Takama’s photography succeeds admirably in capturing the beautifully stark Mongolian landscape with a series of gorgeous vistas, and Quebec pianist Andre Gagnon, who is popular in Japan, has crafted a distinctive score that nicely complements the visuals.

Naran

(JAPANESE-MONGOLIAN)

Production

A Home Film production. Produced by Toshiaki Nakazawa, Yoshiyaka Yamamoto, Executive producer, Yasuharu Iwakiri. Directed by Makoto Shiina. Screenplay, Rio Kishida, Rika Yamagami, based on the story "Kusa No Umi" by Makoto Shiina.

Crew

Camera (color), Kenji Takama; editor, Yoshiyuki Okuhara; music, Andre Gagnon; sound, Tsutomu Honda. Reviewed at World Film Festival, Montreal (noncompeting), Aug. 25, 1995. Running time: 106 MIN.
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