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Cinematic anthropologist extraordinaire Shōhei Imamura won his first Palme d’Or at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival for The Ballad of Narayama [Narayama bushikō], his transcendent adaptation of two classic stories by Shichirō Fukazawa.
In a small village in a remote valley where the harshness of life dictates that survival overrules compassion, elderly widow Orin is approaching her 70th birthday – the age when village law says she must go up to the mythic Mount Narayama to die. But there are several loose ends within her own family to tie up first.
Creating a vividly realised inverse image of “civilised” society with typical directness and black humour, Imamura presents a bracingly unsentimental rumination on mortality and an engrossing study of a community’s struggles against the natural elements. Handled with a masterful control and simplicity, moving effortlessly between the comic and the horrific, The Ballad of Narayama is one of the legendary director’s deepest, richest works, and ranks among the finest films of its decade.