Sog.: Shichiro Fukazawa. F.: Hiroshi Kusuda. M.: Yoshi Sugihara. Scgf.: Kisaku Ito, Chiyoo Umeda. Mus.: Rokuzaemon Kineya, Matsunosuke Nozawa. Int.: 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). Prod.: Shochiku. DCP. Col
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.