The Blu-ray Disc
The Ballad of Narayama is presented in 1080p high definition in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Criterion’s transfer is a knockout, delivering vibrant, deeply saturated colors in a crisp, detail-filled image. Film grain is not abundantly obvious, but the image retains a very film-like look throughout. The only major issue is an effect around the 36-minute mark where image movement stutters and slows down for about 20 seconds. It looks like a digital error, but apparently it’s inherent to the film elements. It’s unfortunate, but certainly not enough to ruin what is otherwise a very nice looking disc. The uncompressed monaural soundtrack is also solid, handling the film’s frequent abrupt singing and music cues well without ever sounding too harsh.
A lower-tier Criterion release, this one only comes with a theatrical trailer and a teaser on the disc. The package also includes an essay with a booklet by Philip Kemp.
The Bottom Line
A fascinating formal experiment and a moving depiction of (misguided, perhaps) duty, Keisuke Kinoshita’s The Ballad of Narayama is a bracing cinematic experience.