The Ballad of Narayama (1958)

Respect and dignity of all human life, regardless of age, is paramount in society. Care of the elderly is a burgeoning topic due to the increasing number of baby boomers entering senior citizenry. Advanced health care directives, power of attorney, and deprescribing medications are some of the initiatives taken to improve the quality of life of our elders and to also endorse their autonomy. They have lived and breathed through a mountain of experiences, and it is essential that we value their contributions to youths’ and young adults’ knowledge bases. Unfortunately, their worth may sometimes not be esteemed by younger generations, and their future may be dictated by predilections beyond their control. Also explored in Make Way for Tomorrow, the heartbreaking “The Ballad of Narayama” (1958) directed by Keisuke Kinoshita addresses these widespread concerns.

Orin, played by Kinuyo Tanaka, is a 69-year-old female living in a tiny Japanese village. She has resigned to and embraced her fate as travelling to the mountain Narayama at age 70. According to ancient Japanese custom, elders at this age in a community facing famine would succumb to Narayama’s harsh environment in an effort to indirectly supply a greater quantity of food to youth and young adults in the village. The conflicting attitudes of her various family members as well as complex village dynamics surrounding her impending journey are examined. In addition, the stunning colour cinematography, set design, and theatrical staging serve to create distance between the ultimate joys and sadness in the community, inadvertently highlighting the disregard and complacency of the village towards elders. Overall, famine, theft, and inevitable greed are commonalities throughout the villagers’ lives, whereby Orin’s fate may be a relief from the jarring discordance of her world.

A great deal of the film’s narrative is told through traditional Japanese music, which is reflected in its title. However, a ballad often consists of mournful content. It is quite evident that Orin’s son, Tatsuhei (Teiji Takahashi), is grieving for his mother’s fate as well as that of all of the elders who took the fatal expedition to this location. Submissiveness, abandonment, guilt, and fear are emotions often uncovered in ballads. These feelings are entangled within Tatsuhei, and are highly represented throughout this gorgeous film. The differences in opinion between family members can often create such a magnitude of tension that ‘black and white thinking’ can be overpowering, severing ties. It is imperative that humans and all creatures cherish the role of family members of all ages. While they can be highly critical of our perceived weaknesses, their support develops and fosters our strengths.

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I do not own the above image.

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