sábado, 18 de setembro de 2010

Natural Culturalism in "The Ballad of Narayama": A Study of Shohei Imamura's Thematic Concerns

(Narayama-Bushi ko, 1983)
By Lee Wood Hung

In 1958, Keisuke Kinoshita adapted Shichiro Fukasawa's Narayamabushi-ko into a movie with a strong flavor of classical kabuki, an attempt which met with great success. Some 25 years later, Shohei Imamura adapted the same novel for the screen with the same title, hereafter referred to by its English title, The Ballad of Narayama, which was awarded the grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival in France in 1983. Keiko McDonald (1994: 124) comments that compared to Kinoshita's classical theatrical approach, Imamura's version is deeply rooted in realism. Other than the above-mentioned difference in terms of filmmaking, what is so unique about imamura's grand prize winning masterpiece? Yann Lardeau (1997: 158) points out that Imamura's world is one in which "animals, nature and humans are closely interconnected." In fact, in Imamura's film, immediately after a scene in which the villagers cultivate the land to grow food, the scene of a snake eating a mouse is shown. The love scene between the two villagers Kesakichi and Matsuyan in the outdoors is juxtaposed with scenes of snakes and frogs mating. Obviously, the insertion of numerous scenes of nature in parallel with the progress of the main story is unique to Imamura's interpretation, and is worthy of a thorough investigation. (1) Accordingly, the analysis presented in this article will concentrate on Imamura's thematic concerns.
Logically speaking, Imamura's thematic concerns, if any, should be reflected in the film's principal departures from the original novel. My article focuses on two areas, namely how Imamura's film differs from Fukasawa's original novel in narrative; and how all the additions and alterations are at work in Imamura's adaptation of the original. Only by comparing the film and the original novel can we discover which elements of the film do not have their roots in Fukasawa's text. (2) Such a comparison will show us which parts of the movie were purposeful additions made by Imamura representing his own original statements.
In order to capture the whole picture of Imamura's thematic concerns, it is important to note that not only Imamura's pervasive use of natural images but also how Imamura incorporates substantial episodes from another novel, Tohoku no Zummutachi (or The Miserable in North-eastern Japan), into the legend of abandoning the elderly (3) needs to be analyzed in this article. By investigating the above two aspects of this prize-winning masterpiece, we can unveil Imamura's thematic concerns which consists of his 1) portrayal of the mechanism of a Japanese traditional mura (4) or farming village, hereafter referred to as mura, and ie (5), or family, as well as the basic attitude towards daily life of individuals living there, and 2) creation of a visual analogy using pervasive natural images to provide a perceptive framework for understanding the distinguishing features of Japanese mura and ie. Imamura demonstrates in his movie that the cultural values of the Japanese villagers are constructed along the lines of natural images. He
(1983b: 49) comments on the meaning of life among the villagers in the movie as follows:
"No one puts up a fight against the harsh code (of the village). One and all must live out their lives in obedience to and harmony with the unforgiving world of nature, patient and unresisting in the face of adversity." (Translated by the author)
In order to analyze the above Imamura thematic concerns effectively I create the term "natural culturalism"(6) in this article to refer to the naturalistic characteristics of the Japanese culture, as portrayed by Imamura in The Ballad of Narayama.

Differences between Imamura's Film and Fukasawa's Original Novel

The Ballad of Narayama is based on Fukasawa's novel, Narayamabushi-ko, which in turn was developed from an old legend describing a farming village's unusual tradition of abandoning the elderly on a mountain. This legend can be found in KonjakuMonogatarishu (or The Once-upon-a-time Stories) (Mabuchi, 1982: 511-513), a collection of popular legendary literature compiled in the twelfth century. In that collection, this simple legend is referred to as "Shinano no Kuni no Obasute Densetsu," or "The Legend of Abandoning Old Woman in Shinano no Kuni (a region corresponding to Nagano Prefecture today)." Similar legends can be found in various places throughout Japan. However, according to Kunio Yanagida (1966: 271-272), the founder of Japanese folklore studies, since no skeletal evidence of this practice has been found, it is unlikely that this legend has any basis in fact.
Shichirô Fukasawa fleshed out this simple old legend in his novel, creating various characters to enrich the story. Fukasawa's novel was so successful that in 1956, he was awarded the "Shinjinsho," or the best-new-novelist-of-the-year award, by Chuokoron-sha, a famous publisher in Tokyo. The way Orin, an old woman and the protagonist in his story, adheres to her own faith in traditional customs was particularly praised by the modern Japanese media, perhaps because of the perplexing plurality of value systems in post-war Japanese society. The dilemma between modern humanism and the tradition of sacrificing individual interests for the benefit of the group seems to have aroused a strong response from the Japanese public (Mishima,1956:201-203).
In 1983, Imamura adapted Narayamabushi-ko for the screen. Also entitled The Ballad ofNarayama, his film was awarded the grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival in France that year. The screenplay written by Imamura himself is based on Fukasawa's novel, but he deliberately made some substantial changes, which further enriches the content of the film. Not only the exemplary old villager, as an individual, Orin's adherence to her own faith in traditional values is praised, as in the original novel, but the whole mechanism of a Japanese traditional mura (village) is skilfully portrayed in the film.
The difference in terms of narrative event between Fukasawa's original and Imamura's film is two-fold, namely Imamura's incorporation of episodes from another Fukasawa novel, The Miserable in North-eastern Japan; and Imamura's own creation, or addition. Regarding the first point, Imamura makes great efforts to include episodes from The Miserable in North-eastern Japan in the film. Fukasawa elaborately describes how miserable life is when one is not born as an eldest son in a northeastern Japanese farming village. The protagonist of the novel is Risuke who has an inborn foul smell and is born as the second son of a farmhouse in northeastern Japan. According to the tradition of this farming village, only the eldest son can marry and have children, Imamura purposefully includes this foul-smelling character in The Ballad of Narayama as a contrastive foil for the eldest son of the Nekkonoie family, Tatsuhei, another protagonist of the film. (7) With the splendid contrast of the two brothers, the correlation among the traditional Japanese mura, ie, and individuals is successfully brought into sharp relief.
In connection with Risuke, the following episodes from The Miserable in North-eastern Japan are included in Imamura's film: 1) Risuke steals into the Niiyashiki household's backyard to have sex with their dog (1983a: 61); 2) to counter a curse placed on them by a deceased village laborer, the head of the Niiyashiki family orders his wife, Oei, to spend one night with each of the village laborers, including Risuke (1983a: 61); 3). Risuke turns out to be the only exception, skipped by Oei because of his inborn bad odor (1983a: 65-66); 4) to prevent Risuke from causing further damage to the family, Tatsuhei asks his wife, Tamayan(8) to sooth his younger brother by sleeping with him for one night (1983a: 66); and 5) to prevent Risuke from having sex with his own sister-in-law, Orin asks her elderly good friend, Okane, to cheer Risuke up by having sex with him (1983a: 66). Furthermore, there are many other short but symbolically important episodes from The Miserable in North-eastern Japan incorporated into the film. The scene in which Risuke discovers an abandoned baby lying in the rice paddy (1983a: 56) and the episode in which Tatsuhei and Risuke make a coffin for Okane, their elderly neighbor, who is about to die (1983a: 57,59), are best examples, on which I will elaborate later in this article.
In addition to the above incorporation of episodes from The Miserable in North-eastern Japan, Imamura also creates episodes himself to effectively elaborate his thematic concerns of this film. The following six examples are worthy of mention: 1 ) the villagers unite in order to catch a rabbit. After Tatsuhei has finally managed to capture and kill the rabbit, an eagle swoops out of a tree and snatches it away (1983a: 56); 2) Matsuyan, the first daughter-in-law of the Nekkonoie family, is from the Amaya family,(9) which is labelled by the villagers as "a family of thieves by nature." In the end she is punished and buried alive with herparents' family (1983a: 57, 63,64); 3) thirty years earlier, Tatsuhei killed his father for shaming the family by not taking Tatsuhei's grandmother up the mountain (10) (1983a: 66); 4) as Tatsuhei carries his mother up the mountain, he laments having to follow the tradition and finds it difficult to face this inhumane aspect of the family head's social obligation (1983a: 69); 5) Tatsuhei tries to punish Matsuyan when he finds that she has stolen some potatoes for her parents' family. However, he lets her go when he notices that she is pregnant ( 1983a: 62); and 6) Orin knows that the villagers plan to kill Matsuyan's family. Nevertheless, by giving Matsuyan some potatoes, she prods her into returning to her parents' family with whom she subsequently dies (1983a: 64).
Compared to all these differences in terms of narrative event, Imamura's pervasive use of natural images which provide a perceptive framework for understanding the distinctive features of Japanese mura and ie appears to be the most obvious addition to Fukasawa's original. As mentioned in the first paragraph of this article, Imamura inserts numerous scenes of nature in parallel with the progress of the main plot of the film. This is a unique device to Imamura's filmmaking and is worthy of a thorough discussion.
The above-mentioned three elements are the main differences between Imamura's film and Fukasawa's novel. According to McDonald (2000: xi-xii), the above three substantial changes will be treated as Imamura's unique ideas when compared to Fukasawa's original novel. Based on all the aforementioned Imamura's purposeful alterations or additions, I will move on to the analysis of how they are at work in Imamura's film, and how Imamura's thematic concerns are accommodated in his adaptation of the original work.

Addition of Narrative Events and Use of Natural Images

Compared to Fukasawa's thematic focus on praising the exemplary individual Orin's adherence to her own faith in traditional values, Imamura's depiction of the unique characteristics of Japanese traditional farming village culture is ambitious. (11) Imamura's ambition is well accommodated by both the incorporation of the episodes from The Miserable in North-eastern Japan and his own creations. His portrayal of Japanese cosmology in a farming village and the interrelation among the mura, the ie, and the individual is detailed and well organized. He demonstrates the paramount features of Japanese mura by creating the following symbolic scene and deliberate narratives.
By creating the symbolic scene in which Tatsuhei and Risuke make a coffin for Okane, their elderly neighbor, who is about to die, Imamura portrays how kinrin gumi, or "the neighborhood organization of collective responsibility" functions in a Japanese farming village. When one's neighbor dies, one is responsible for preparing a coffin for the dying neighbor if it happens to be one's turn.
To demonstrate how villagers stand together to root out common threats to their community, Imamura creates a narrative in which Matsuyan, the first daughter-in-law of the Nekkonoie family, is punished and buried alive with her parents' family because the family is notorious for stealing from the other villagers. Japanese mura are well known for watching out for violations of village regulations, and taking action against one another when these are transgressed. Since individuals within the traditional culture can hardly survive without mura-level support, the idea of "unmei kyodotai "'or "a community united in its fate," gradually came into being. Under this perception, Orin prods Matsuyan, her daughter-in-law, into her parents' family with whom she subsequently dies. There are no exceptions once the common threat to the community is identified.
To emphasize the paramount importance of the communal ethics, Imamura creates the episode in which Tatsuhei kills his father for shaming the family by not taking his mother up the mountain thirty years earlier. Although father is important, Imamura chooses to demonstrate that communal ethics are even superior to one's parent. Sharing Tatsuhei's feeling and values, Orin also feels shameful about her husband's failure in implementing his social obligation. When Tatsuhei finally confesses that he had killed his father, she comforts her son by saying "It's not you but the kamisama, or the God, who killed your father. Keep this secret between you and me" (Imamura, 1983a: 68). In order to satisfy the interests of the whole community, individual feeling or interest is always sacrificed. If one, especially a family head like Tatsuhei's father, cannot carry out his social responsibility because of personal judgement, he could be seriously condemned. Such behavior could damage the reputation of one's family. "Try not to be laughed at" is always a fundamental criterion when deciding one's behavior in the setting of a traditional Japanese farming village.
Imamura's depiction of Japanese cosmology in a farming village is not limited to the mura. His deliberate and vivid portrayal of Japanese ie in his film is also worth analyzing. The Japanese monopolistic system of inheritance plays a critical role in perpetuation of future generations of the family, or ie no eizoku; the heir, usually the eldest son, is always the focus of the depiction. In order to effectively depict an eldest son's uniqueness in the light of perceiving the features of Japanese ie, Imamura skilfully includes Risuke, the foul-smelling man, from The Miserable in North-eastern Japan as a contrast to his eldest brother, Tatsuhei, the head of the Nekkonoie family. Despite their same poor family background, the miserable 35-year-old Risuke cannot afford to get married, while in contrast Tatsuhei enjoys the luxury of taking a second wife after his first wife has died. In the Nekkonoie family, Risuke's role is solely to help with the farming work. Merely being a free laborer of the Nekkonoie family, he has to give way to Tatsuhei's eldest son, Kesakichi, the heir of the family of the next generation. At one point in the film, Risuke is annoyed because Kesakichi, his nephew, laughs at his bad smell and tells him to stay away. When Risuke responds, Orin interjects saying, "Hey, Risuke, stay away from Kesakichi. Do as he told you because he's gonna be the successor to Tatsuhei and be the head of the family." Orin's warning words towards Risuke, her second son, clearly demonstrates that the heir of the next generation of the family can have his own way even in front of his uncle. Compared to the miserable Risuke, Tatsuhei enjoys good treatment in his daily life, at least superficially.
In fact, for people who are not familiar with traditional Japanese culture, the idea of a "family head" might merely indicate an individual considered important by other family members, someone who always has the final say in family matters. However, in the tradition of the Japanese farming village, this is not always the case. Instead, the family head is only another individual in a long stream of lineage stretching backwards into the past and passing on into the future. In Japanese culture, first priority is always given to the long-term benefit of the whole. When there is conflict between the family head's personal feelings and the benefit of the whole, the family head must defer to the latter, no matter how unwilling he is. In Imamura's film, Tatsuhei shows his reluctance from time to time to carry Orin, his 69-year-old mother, up the mountain. However, it is part of his social role to abandon his beloved mother. There is no alternative but to fulfill his responsibility regardless of his unwillingness. This is the reality of the farming village, a reality that nobody can change, not even the family head. In the movie, in order to highlight such constraints imposed on the family head, Imamura purposefully inserts the following monologue of Tatsuhei lamenting that he has to carry his mother up the mountain.
"Our ancestors all went to the mountain, passing through here, for many hundreds of years! There must have been hundreds or thousands of them. Maybe more than that. Twenty five years from now, it'll be my turn, carried on Kesakichi's back. Another twenty five years later, it'll be Kesakichi's turn. But what can we do about it? They say that Yamanokamisama, the god of the mountain, is waiting at the peak. Is that really so?" (Translated bythe author.)
While Tatsuhei is privileged as family head, he is also burdened by obligations. In the movie, Risuke is always at liberty to sleep as long as he pleases and to become emotional over daily trivialities. In contrast, Tatsuhei, being the family head, has no choice but to carry out his social responsibilities regardless of his own feelings. As analyzed above, Imamura clearly depicts the Japanese perception of ie in two features of the Japanese family, namely: (a) the system of isshi sozoku or monopolistic inheritance; and (b) the role of each family member, especially the family head. The director's portrayal is elaborate and successful.
In order to capture Imamura's whole picture of his thematic concerns, other than the above departure from Fukasawa's original novel in tenns of narrative event, it is important to note that Imamura's device of visual analogy, using pervasive natural images to provide a perceptive framework for understanding the distinctive features of Japanese culture, is thoroughly compelling. The film begins with the insertion of various animals. The camera pans slowly across the snowy mountain, village, and then zooms in one of the farming houses belonging to the Nekkonoie family. Underneath the house, there are blue-green snakes hibernating and twining around each other. A brown rat approaches and sniffs at the blue-green snakes. Imamura regards the blue-green snakes as the symbol of a family and these snakes appear frequently throughout the film. When Tatsuhei spends the first night with his new wife, Tamayan, a blue-green snake appears to welcome the new family member. When the Amaya family is labelled by the villagers as "a family of thieves by nature," a blue-green snake crawls out from the house of Amaya. At the end of the film, after Orin brings her life to a successful conclusion, a scene of blue-green snakes peacefully enjoying their hibernation is cut in. The above four are typical of Imamura's use of natural images to symbolically describe what is going on in the movie. There is a total of 16 scenes of animals inserted in connection with human beings throughout the film. The following four scenes demonstrate Imamura's efforts to create a visual analogy of Japanese farming village life:
(a) immediately after a scene in which the villagers cultivate the land to grow food, the scene of a snake eating a mouse is shown.
(b) The love scene between the two villagers Kesakichi and Matsuyan in the outdoors is juxtaposed with scenes of snakes and frogs mating.
(c) When Tatsuhei spends the first night with his second wife, a mating scene of two moths is cut in.
(d) As soon as Kesakichi notices that Matsuyan is pregnant, the scene of a snake giving birth to its baby is inserted.
As revealed by the above four nature scenes, the most fundamental elements of "life" in the world of nature are acquiring food and reproducing the species. Creatures of each kind live to the best of their ability. There is little difference in this sense between human beings and other animals in Imamura's film. In other words, behind all the explicit visual natural images lies Imamura's implicit assertion that in Japanese traditional farming life, the interrelation among the individuals, the ie and the mura is constructed in the image of nature.
Along this line of interpretation, Imamura symbolically portrays the similarity between human beings and animals in his creation of the "rabbit- hunt" episode, as a foretelling hint, at the very beginning of the movie. In this episode, the villagers try to entice the rabbit into the hunter's range so that the hunter can shoot it. This teamwork pays off, and the rabbit is shot. Nevertheless, an eagle snatches the rabbit away, demonstrating that while humans may think that they are superior to other animals, that is not always the case. In this "rabbit-hunt" episode, Imamura suggests that in the realm of nature, we have to admit that all creatures are the same. There are no exceptions, not even human beings.(12) This point is clearly made at the beginning of the film, and the same message is repeatedly conveyed throughout the movie by Imamura's insertion of numerous nature-scene parallel subplots.
Speaking of symbolic scene, Imamura uses the visual analogy of an abandoned baby, which is in concert with the motif of abandoning the elderly. Over the course of Japanese history, in order to make good use of the limited supply of food, poor people often abandoned their babies as unproductive surplus population. In Japanese farming villages, this practice is traditionally called mabiki. Originally, mabiki was an agricultural term referring to the thinning out of a surplus in order to grow target crops more efficiently, or to keep them at a designed level. Thus, mabiki represents a kind of agricultural know-how. As far as agriculture is concerned, it is undoubtedly a rational and efficient practice.
When this idea is applied to human society, as in the movie, it might sound cruel from a humanistic viewpoint. However, if one considers the issue from the viewpoint of nature, as is suggested in the movie, one can understand how this is an effective strategy for survival. Imamura skilfully uses the visual analogy of the abandoned baby to portray the Japanese traditional idea of thinning out the weak, including both infants and elderly, for the benefit of the whole. Once again, similar to what is true in the world of nature, the assurance of the collective inheritance intact is always given the first priority.
Under this tradition, the elderly know when it is their time to leave their lives and village. They have a sense of when their natural time is up. They realize that as people, they are just part of nature. Human beings are not superior to nature and it is natural for them to die and become part of nature. (13) If one does not perceive things from this point of view, one will never be able to understand why Orin accuses herself of being long lived. In the movie, she asserts that reaching her age and being so healthy is shameful (Imamura, 1983a: 58).
As analyzed above, Imamura's assertion that Japanese farming villagers' values are constructed in the image of nature is clear. Yet, the cultural aspect of villagers' values is never overlooked. Imamura elaborately demonstrates that villagers of the same mura have a strong sense of social solidarity and collective responsibility, which includes helping each other, watching out for violations of village regulations, and taking action against each other when these are transgressed. Communal ethics are cultivated gradually in each individual through experiences of daily life, and in time, the value system acquired can drive the individual to act against his inborn nature. In Imamura's version, Tatsuhei is depicted as kind and gentle by nature as he is always reluctant to carry his mother up the mountain. He also lets Matsuyan, his thievish daughter-in-law, go when he notices that she is pregnant. At the same time, Tatsuhei kills his father for shaming the family. By altering the original, Imamura wants to show that Tatsuhei, the eldest son of the Nekkonoie family, tried very hard to adapt himself to the norms of the village ever since he was a young villager. Although Japanese behavior on the whole is depicted as very naturalistic, cultural characteristics, including the above-mentioned value system acquired in a mura, which leads people to act against their inborn nature, are not ignored by Imamura. This is the main reason that I would apply the term "natural culturalism" rather than just "naturalism" to describe Japanese behavior patterns as Imamura depicts them.
In Imamura's movie, Tatsuhei is portrayed as a man who has a strong sense of adhering to the village's communal ethics and yet at the same time has a kind and gentle nature, which puts him in a dilemma. A portrayal of the internal conflict experienced by human beings caught between contradictory demands has been a popular theme in Japanese literature and film. Imamura's portrayal of this theme in his film can undoubtedly be counted among one of the successful attempts of its kind.
Orin acts as a significant source of support and advice to the head of the Nekkonoie family. Imamura depicts her as a contrast to Tatsuhei in terms of personality. She has the mental strength to fulfill her social role successfully(14) and is a model to the villagers in her strong motivation to carry out all the traditional regulations. She knows that her time to leave has come, and she prepares everything necessary for her departure from the family. She arranges a successor to her position by finding a second wife for her son, Tatsuhei, and teaches her new daughter-in-law everything she knows in order to produce more food for the family. Orin is well aware of the regulations and is brave enough to live a fulfilled life in the traditional way. In Imamura's movie, not family heads like Tatsuhei but only villagers like Orin can be content and happy.
Regardless of their personality differences, Tatsuhei and Orin, as the foundations of the Nekkonoie family, share a common concern for the family's future. In the movie, when Risuke's sexual advances are refused by Oei, the most attractive woman in the village, he becomes so frustrated and destructive that he vents his anger on the horse and paddy field. His behavior poses an obvious threat to the normal operation of the Nekkonoie family. In order to prevent him from causing further damage, Orin asks her neighbor, Okane, to sleep with Risuke. Meanwhile, Tatsuhei also asks his wife, Tamayan, to spend one night with his younger brother. The ways in which the villagers adopt countermeasures to cope with various situations differ from occasion to occasion, but the prosperity of the family is always given top priority. Their approach with a strong flavor of nature indicates that surviving and ensuring the continuation of the next generation is always the most fundamental concern.
Also, regarding this nature-centered perspective, Imamura adds numerous episodes to the original storyline to emphasize the natural character of sex in the eyes of the villagers.(15)The director accommodates all these additions to further his thematic portrayal of "natural culturalism." In the movie, villagers do not enjoy much in the way of entertainment in their small, poor surroundings. Sex is one of their major sources of entertainment which costs nothing. People see sex merely as a natural act and do not impose judgements or moral values on sex. As a type of human behavior, it is neither good nor bad.(16) Imamura exaggerates this point by having Tatsuhei, ask his wife to spend a night with Risuke, in order to ease his mind and bring him back to work. Orin uses a similar approach in the film. In fact, using sex as a means to solve problems seems to be nothing out of the ordinary. The head of the Niiyashiki family likewise, orders his wife, Oei, to spend one night with each of the village laborers. This addition to the original is another example of Imamura's portrayal of sex as a means to solve problems.
In some cultures, people may look askance at satisfying sexual instincts without regard for moral or social consequences. If people do not successfully keep such instincts under control, they can easily develop into something truly dangerous. However, in Japanese culture, as interpreted by Imamura, social attitudes toward human instincts such as sex are quite different. They have nothing to do with ethics.(17) In his view, such instincts are natural. They are something positive and enjoyable if one has the ability to act on them. Once again, Imamura focuses on the naturalistic behavior of the Japanese, in this case by portraying their sexual life.

(Shohei Imamura and his crew on the set of Narayama-bushi ko, 1983)

Exaggeration To Highlight Imamura's View of Japanese Value Systems

Imamura effectively portrays his view of the features of Japanese value systems as developed in the traditional Japanese farming villages through the use of exaggeration. Although Yanagida (1966: 271-272) suggests that the legend of abandoning the elderly in the mountains is not based on fact because no skeletal evidence of such a practice has been found, Imamura adopts this fictitious legend to demonstrate the Japanese tradition of sacrificing the individual's interests for the benefit of the group. Imamura's use of the fictitious legend may indeed be seen as a form of exaggeration.
The exaggeration of character portrayal in the film is worthy of special mention. According to Imamura's portrayal, Tatsuhei sharply contrasts with Orin, although both of them share a common stance of assuming responsibility necessary to assure the economic continuity of the family.(18) Orin is altogether a model villager who is able to thoroughly carry out all traditional regulations, whereas Tatsuhei experienced serious conflict between an acquired sense of obligation and his inborn personality. Orin, the most capable and mentally strong model villager, is an extreme caricature. On the other hand, the tender-hearted and sentimental Tatsuhei, who dramatically killed his father, is another extreme. By contrasting Orin and Tatsuhei, Imamura successfully depicts the complex role of the heir in Japanese traditional society.
To further emphasize the unique role of the heir under the Japanese monopolistic system of inheritance, Risuke, the foul-smelling character, is devised as a perfect foil for Tatsuhei. In the movie, Risuke is a miserable character in the Nekkonoie family. He seems to be unique in the extent of the misery he endures. Imamura's depiction is merciless but effective in highlighting the difference between being an eldest son and otherwise in a Japanese farming village. This is another example of Imamura's use of exaggeration in his portrayal of characters.
This device of exaggeration extends not only to characterization but also to narrative events. I would like to examine three such instances in the film, which illustrate Imamura's tendency toward exaggeration.
First, let us focus on Risuke, who steals into the Niiyashiki household's backyard to have sex with their dog, Shiro. In Japanese fanning villages, there is a tradition of yobai, or stealing into a lover's habitation. It is not difficult to imagine that poor villagers had their own ways of fulfilling their physical needs. Nevertheless, the foul-smelling Risuke's relationship with the dog is hardly a normal behavior in traditional Japanese farming villages.
Second, in the film, in order to prevent Risuke from causing further damage to the family, Tatsuhei asks his wife, Tamayan, to sooth his younger brother by sleeping with him for one night. Using this episode, Imamura emphasizes that the family head's most important role is keeping the functioning of the family as a whole on track. Undoubtedly, this motivation is very significant because it enables outsiders to understand the basic role of the leader in the economic unit of the Japanese ie. However, Tatsuhei's behavior should not be considered common in Japanese farming villages. In fact, Orin warns her daughter-in-law, Tamayan, not to follow Tatsuhei's ridiculous instructions, and she takes a different tack to solve the problem by asking her neighbor, Okane, to do her a favor of having sex with Risuke.
Last, just as Imamura exaggerates the villagers' use of sex as a countermeasure to cope with various situations, so he exaggerates their acts of revenge. As punishment for repeatedly stealing food from other villagers, the Amaya family is buried alive. Although it is well known that in Japanese mura, villagers are supposed to watch out for violations of village regulations and take action against each other when such offenses occur, burying offenders alive was scarcely a common phenomenon in Japanese farming villages. Rather, a penalty known as murahachibu, or village ostracism, is always imposed on those who commit an offense against village regulations. Those who cut firewood in the communal forests without permission might be boycotted by other villagers for a period of time. Those who commit more serious misconducts such as theft might be forced to live alone, staying outside the village where it is out of the local guardian deity's protection (Fukuda and Miyata, eds., 1983: 43-44). Taking into consideration that villagers regularly exchange mutual aid and labor, particularly for the purpose of rice production and irrigation, the above penalties and have a strong deterrent effect. Hence, burying offenders aiive should be another example of Imamura's use of exaggeration to depict the feature of "a community united in its fate."
We can greatly benefit from Imamura's movie, The Ballad ofNarayama, if we recognize the intent behind these exaggerations. Imamura uses a broad brush to paint his vision of Japanese culture, using points of symbolic detail to clearly demonstrate structural features of Japanese culture.

Concluding Remarks

In this article, I investigated the differences between Imamura's film and Fukasawa's original novel and discovered that when Imamura adapted Fukasawa's The Ballad of Narayama for screen, he did not only create narrative events by himself but also incorporated episodes from the same author's The Miserable in North-eastern Japan in the film. By comparing Imamura's film and Fukasawa's novel, we have seen which elements of the film were purposeful additions made by Imamura. I also analyzed how Imamura used natural images to provide a perceptive framework for understanding the distinctive features of Japanese traditional farming culture. Through Imamura's inspiring work, we catch a glimpse of what he considered to be the unique characteristics of Japanese traditional culture, including the mechanism of a community united in its fate, the mentality of an individual living in the mura community, what role should each family member play in a traditional Japanese ie, and Japanese attitudes toward sex.(19) These basic elements of Japanese culture, developed in the traditional Japanese farming village, can still be detected, maybe in a slightly different form, in modem Japanese society. (20)
Imamura's portrayal of the characters and events in this film from his naturalistic standpoint should be regarded as his most important contribution. In this film, the whole cosmos is dominated by the laws of nature, which describe that everything must struggle to survive. Human beings cultivate land to grow food and hunt animals for meat in order to survive. Similarly, snakes eat mice and frogs eat stick-walkers. It is the reality of the cosmos that everyone must struggle for survival. (21) Moreover, when one being survives, another dies; when someone comes, someone else leaves. This is the rhythm of nature. Imamura demonstrates in his movie that the cultural values of the Japanese people are constructed along the lives of natural images.
One might call this Japanese behavioral feature "natural." But, as I argued earlier, there is also a cultural dimension. I believe that through the framework of what might be called "natural culturalism," a blend of both nature and culture, one can understand and begin to interpret not only the behavior of Japan's villagers of the past, but also that of the modern Japanese people.22 In one way or another, Japanese political behavior, ethical judgment, entertainment culture, etc., are all influenced to some degree by what is referred to here as "natural culturalism." Further research into other applications of this framework to Japanese culture and society can be expected to yield rich results.

(1) Imamura ( 1997a: 125) reveals to the press that his "idea" for the film lies in its attitude to human beings. In his case, this attitude is one of obsession, almost total focus. In his work, people take center stage. He is much more interested in mankind than most filmmakers. There are no shots in his films which do not contain human action. There are no empty landscapes or unmotivated cuts.
(2) Keiko McDonald (2000: xi-xii) asserts that in the process of comparing any two works, we look first at the structure of each. Then we locate the point (or points) of departure as the film differentiates itself from its "original." She also holds that we should treat each film or literary work as a finished product rather than a work "in process." She considers each work a self-contained entity with its own structure and that makes it possible to compare the structure of one with the other.
(3) Tohoku no Zummutachi describes how miserable the zummu, farmers who are not born as eldest sons, are in a Japanese traditional village. In Imamura's The Ballad of Narayama, he substantially includes episodes from Tohoku no Zummutachi to underscore his thematic concerns. In this article, all additions and alterations based on the above inclusions are treated as departures from Fukasawa's original novel.
(4) Mura, the smallest independent geographical unit of the Japanese agricultural economy, began to emerge in the fourteenth century when Japanese society was in turmoil. Villagers of the same mura were tied together by a need to defend themselves and a common interest in sharing both irrigation facilities and natural resources for farming purposes (Fukuda and Miyata, eds., 1985 : 38^5).
(5) Japanese farming villagers perceive their ie, or family, to be an economic institution, and the continuity of this economic institution is considered to be of paramount importance. Isshi sozoku, the Japanese monopolistic system of inheritance, ensures that only a single member of each generation will receive the family's inheritance. Through this traditional system, families can guarantee that their collective inheritance will remain intact. This practice piays a critical role in the economic continuity of the family (Fukuda and Miyata, eds., 1985:16-18).
(6) Tadao Sato (1997: 214) uses the term "animism" to describe a common strand in Imamura's films that positively affirms the life force underlying all living things.
(7) Under the Japanese monopolistic system of inheritance, the eldest son, who is usually the heir of a farmhouse plays a very important role. Consequently, Tatsuhei becomes another protagonist of the film, which is different from Fukasawa's original.
(8) In Fukasawa's The Miserable in North-eastern Japan, Risuke's sister-in-law is Asa whereas his sister-in-law is Tamayan in Imamura's film.
(9) In Fukasawa's original (1981 : 267), Matsuyan is from the Ikenomae family. She has nothing to do with the Amaya family. Thus, she is not punished at all in the original. Furthermore, according to Fukasawa's original, the "family of thieves by nature" is punished by the villagers and disappears over night. However, how they exterminate the "family of thieves by nature" is not clearly stated.
(10) This episode does not exist in the original. Tatsuhei's father died 20 years earlier in Fukasawa's novel.
(11) As David Desser (1988: 81-82) mentions in his brilliant work Eros Plus Massacre, the question of identity interests Imamura who wants to seek out and explore the essence not of individual identity, but of "Japaneseness," the question of what it means, what it is, to be Japanese. Desser (1988: 174) also points out that an interest in the premodern imagination is a characteristic of Imamura. He seeks to uncover the underpinnings of modern Japan in its ancient, shamanistic roots.
(12) Imamura's own words quoted by Gilles Laprévotte (1997:101) read as follows: "Insects, animals and humans are similar in the sense that they are bom, they excrete, reproduce and die. Nevertheless, I myself am a man. Ï ask myself what differentiates humans from other animals. What is a human being? I look for the answer by continuing to make films. I don't think I have found the answer."
(13) Yann Lardeau (James Quandi. Ed. 1997: 157-158) notes that the elderly await death on Mount Narayama. Having fulfilled their duty to society, the only thing left for them to do is to leave this world honorably, without shame, relieving their families of another mouth to feed. He also points out the image of a cycle portrayed in the movie as follows: 'The film opens with snow falling in the village and closes, again with snow falling it links a village and a land to one element. Here, humans and nature are one. "
(14) The way she punishes Matsuyan, her grand-daughter-in-law, demonstrates her toughness in fulfilling her social role.
(15) Keiko McDonald ( 1994:11 ) points out that Imamura's characteristic emphasis on realistic detail/approach puts basic human needs - especially sex - very much to the fore.
(16) According to Joan Mellen's analysis (1976: 301-302), Imamura has a consistent and strong interest in depicting Japanese women of peasant origins as enjoying a freedom of sexual expression. For example, Imamura describes Tome in the film The Insect Woman, as a person "living by instinct, with no sense of right and wrong." The director comes to praise rather than criticize her for this primitivism. He suggests to his Japanese audience that to understand this primitivism, it might be wise to abandon the rationalism imported from the West as something uncongenial to Japanese culture. As far as The Ballad of Narayama is concerned, Joan Mellen's observation would seem to apply not only to the female villagers, but to all the villagers in the film.
(17) Gilles Laprévotte (1997: 103) points out that the animal quality, which runs through his films and whose most fundamental expression seems to need to manifest itself through sexuality, Imamura observes as an entomologist would, without any sort of moral judgment or valorization. In The Ballad of Narayama, the sexual acts of certain characters are paralleled with the sexual activity of various animals in the environment, like an "energetic" chain opposed to, or completing, death as symbolized by Mount Narayama.
(18) According to the tradition of Japanese farming villages, it is Tatsuhei's right as the eldest son of the family to inherit all the family's property and his responsibility to assure the economic continuity of the family. On the other hand, Orin, the female mainstay in the family is required to assist the family head in ensuring that the family's collective inheritance remains intact (Fukuda andMiyata, eds., 1985: 18-21).
(19) Imamura (Toichi Nakata, 1997: 121) admits that compared to Kinoshita's focus on stage conventions and traditional music, he wants to focus on the day-to-day lives of the mountain villagers, and particularly on the hard, physical work they have to do, and on their sexual lives.
(20) Imamura ( 1997b: 130) asserts in his interview with Michel Ciment that despite successive external influences, the basic human qualities of a society will never change.
(21) Charles Tesson (James Quandt. Ed., 1997: 159-161 ) makes a similar point as follows: "The cosmology from which the film draws its inspiration (the omnipresent and generating principles of life) never lapses into theoretical interpretation.. .Humans and animals are ruthlessly filmed as spare parts; functioning, copulating links in an assembly line of images."
(22) Donald Richie (1997: 8-9) points out that an observation common to all of Imamura's films is that the naturalness-hidden, muffled, concealed is irrepressible. It will bubble forth at every opportunity. One of the real strengths of the Japanese show by Imamura's films is that they have somehow managed to retain this naturalness. Imamura does not insist that such asocial, amoral naturalness is good. He is content to simply state, repeatedly and in various ways that it continues and endures.

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