20
Apr
14

Ballad of Narayama

narayamaThis 1955 movie was a hard one to watch. It’s about an old woman of 70 who’s intent upon following her region’s tradition of going up the mountain to die. Spry and sharp, you’d think she’d resist like another man in her village, but no. While her son is heartbroken about having to carry his mother up the mountain to leave her to starve, her insolent grandson, who’s newly married keeps taunting her with songs about her good teeth. Repeatedly, the overgrown brat, who does no work and contributes zilch to the family, unlike his grandmother, sings about his grandmother’s “devil teeth.”

Though well done, I found myself stopping the DVD often. I watched in short spurts hoping the woman could stay with her family. But no, it would be too much of a disgrace to be alive after a great grandchild was born. The whole village would gossip.

I like to be culturally sensitive, but this test I couldn’t pass. The director clearly wanted to show how horrid it was to abandon the old in this ritualized way. How despicable the neighbor who threw his father out refusing him food since he didn’t want to go up the mountain to a slow death. Granted food was scarce and Japan was a poor country until it industrialized, but societies are judge by how they treat their weakest members. While I watched I thought of the short comings of our own system. Still this seemed so cruel. Seventy seems far too young.

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