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Archive for May 26th, 2012

The movie takes place over the course of 12 months in the early 20th century in a quiet rural mountainous part of Northern Japan. The matriach of a small village named Orin is nearing the age of 70. When she reaches that age, the eldest son has to carry her off up into the mountains and leave here to die of starvation or exposure to the elements in a ravine so that the younger generations have a better chance to survive with the lack of food and harsh winters. Newborn sons are thrown out and left to die and daughters are left to grow up before being sold to slavery. Even though Orin is in very good health she knows that her time is coming to an end and she is resigned to her fate. She tries to speed up her oncoming death by bashing her teeth on a piece of rock to show the others that as her teeth are falling out it’s a sign by the gods. The journey up the mountains is a very religious experience and past generations in the village have done the same. It’s a chance for Orin to meet the Mountain God and be reunited with loved ones. But Odin’s son Tatsuhei isn’t very happy at the eagerness of his mother to die. Before Orin leaves on her final journey she has a lot to prepare so that her family can survive without her. She sets up Tatsuhei with a woman, asks her elderly friend to have sex with her adopted son Risuke as his sexual frustration grows to boiling point and even has time to set up a witch hunt on her 2nd son’s pregnant wife so that she can be killed in order to lessen the burden on the family.

The first thing that struck me about this movie was the beautiful cinematography with breathtaking aerial shots of the terrain where the story takes place. The question I got from this movie and I’m not sure if this was what director Shohei Imamura was trying to give the viewer was are we no different to the animal kingdom in our ways? Judging from the characters in this movie the answer is probably not. The characters in my opinion are all inbred savages who are only slightly more intelligent than cavemen. They’re certainly not likeable – not one of them and I didn’t care for them either. This is also a movie about survival and the people in the village have taken their choices to the extreme in order to prosper in harsh conditions. They have no choice basically. If they don’t carry out the brutal things they do, there’s a chance for the food to run out and everybody will starve and die. The movie is difficult at times to watch with scenes such as a corpse of a newborn boy which is bloated being found in a paddy field with the snow having melted and being dismissed as fertiliser, a farmhand having sex with a dog and a group of people with a pregnant lady being thrown in a pit and buried alive for stealing food. All the while the director gives us images of animals doing the same thing as the villagers – either shagging, eating or killing each other. But even though I dislike all the characters, this movie is certainly spellbinding. The final 40 mins which traces Orin and Tatsuhei’s journey up the mountain to her final resting place is mesmerising and when we finally come to the location where Tatsuhei has to leave Orin to die, the place is like an elephant’s graveyard. Thousands of human skeletons are strewn across the place which makes it quite an unforgettable scene and on the cliffs above and circling in the sky are crows who are impatiently waiting for Orin to die so that they can feast on her body. It’s quite a depressing movie to watch but there are snippets of humour as well.

The acting is excellent all around and talking about taking your acting to the extreme – Sumiko Sakamoto who plays Orin surgically removed her teeth so that she could realistically look like a 70 year old. At the time of filming she was in her 40’s. Now that’s dedication for you! Ken Ogata who plays Tatsuhei is another that shines in this movie.

This isn’t a movie that everybody will find easy to watch but this tale of people put under extreme conditions and turning into beasts is recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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