Shohei Imamura’s The Ballad of Narayama is excellently crafted, strongly acted and directed, and well shot.
Focus is on the now-past Japanese custom of taking their elderly to the mountains to die: in this case, a determined 69-year-old woman, portrayed convincingly by actress Sumiko Sakamoto, 47, who puts her own family in order and, though healthy, demands to be left on the mountain well before she becomes infirm. Her eldest son protests, but leaves her to the elements.
Imamura shows village life with all its gossip, friendship and abrupt violence and adds a few raw sex scenes that add rather than detract. Pic is a shade long for its telegraphed plot, but for those who take the time there are rewards.
The characters are a mixed bag: a shy elder son who must marry first, a second son who loses his lover when her family proves to be criminals and is buried alive by the village folk, and a third roisterous son who in a counterpoint subplot has sex with another of the village’s old ladies.