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Ballad of Orin

Posted by martinteller on October 10, 2014

At the age of six, blind girl Orin is abandoned by her mother.  She gets taken in by a group of goze — an organization of blind women who wander around, performing songs on the samisen for charity.  The goze consider themselves married to the Buddhist deity Amitabha, and sleeping with a man means expulsion from the group.  After 13 years, Orin (Shima Iwashita) is a fully-trained goze, and due to her youthful beauty and bubbly personality, very popular with the men.  She gets raped and is subsequently thrown out of the order, left to fend for herself as a lone goze (somewhat analogous to being a ronin, a masterless samurai).  She meets up with a drifter named Senzo Tsurukawa (Yoshio Harada).  He accompanies her as her guide, and the two develop longing for each other.  But Tsurukawa is unwilling to act on it, and they travel as brother and sister.

Although set around 1918, the story is as relevant in 1977 when the film was made, or in feudal times, or today.  Orin suffers from slut shaming and blaming the victim, issues that we are still dealing with.  Like Mizoguchi, director Masahiro Shinoda (Double Suicide, Samurai Spy) tackles the sorrowful injustices women face.  Orin is also trained to consider her natural desire for love and companionship to be a sin.  Tsurukawa as well is hamstrung by social restrictions… he feels that if he sleeps with Orin, he must then complete that role by abandoning her, as have all the other men that have drifted in and out of her life.  Only by posing as her brother is he able to sublimate his desire and still enjoy her company.  His story also addresses how war preys on the poor, enticing men who have nothing to sell but their lives and allowing the rich to essentially buy their way out of conscription.

The cinematography is by Kazuo Miyagawa, who shot many of Mizoguchi’s masterpieces, as well as Yojimbo, Rashomon, Floating Weeds and many others of note.  It’s a gorgeous film, with square framing that boxes in the characters and vibrant colors.  A scene of Orin experiencing her first period is illustrated with a trail of blood in the snow, a trail that ends with a red flower.  Other scenes cut away to glorious visions of nature, as if emphasizing the world that Orin is excluded from.  It’s a beautiful film both visually and emotionally, with excellent performances by Iwashita (Shinoda’s wife) and Harada.

As a final trivial sidenote, there is a Takako Minekawa listed in the cast, though it doesn’t say which role she plays.  She has no other credits listed on IMDb.  Takako Minekawa is also the name of a musician whose work I enjoy, and I wonder if they’re the same person.  She would have been the right age to play the young Orin at the time.  Rating: Very Good (88)


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