***½/**** Image B+ Sound A Extras C
starring Kinuyo Tanaka, Teiji Takahashi, Yuko Mochizuki, Danko Ichikawa
screenplay by Keisuke Kinoshita from the novel by Shichiro Fukazawa
directed by Keisuke Kinoshita
by Bryant Frazer The Ballad of Narayama, a 1958 film by Keisuke Kinoshita, a Shochiku studio stablemate of Ozu and Mizoguchi, opens with an unconventional gambit for a Japanese melodrama from the 1950s. A masked M.C. knocking two blocks of wood together matter-of-factly announces the film's title and offers a brief abstract of its content. The fabric behind him proves to be a curtain, drawn aside after the credits are displayed--Narayama is staged as theatre, filmed by a movie camera. The voiceover narration, accompanied by music plucked on a shamisen, draws on traditional Japanese styles of drama. The sets are lavishly dressed with flowers, trees, and even gently burbling brooks. And Kinoshita's repeated strategy of changing sets in full view of the camera by pushing platforms to the side, casting a shadow across a character, or suddenly dropping a curtain or background to reveal a new scene behind, is borrowed from the kabuki tradition.