Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Alternate Best Actor 1983: Ken Ogata in The Ballad of Narayama

Ken Ogata did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Tatsuhei in The Ballad of Narayama.

The Ballad of Narajama depicts the harsh day to day life of a small Japanese village where all elderly go to a mountain to die when they turn 70. I have to admit I was allowed a particularly interesting view of this film as I accidentally watched the original 1958 version first. I will admit I took longer to catch my mistake than I should have, curse you restoration, I caught wise a few minutes in when a Kurosawa regular showed up but by then I thought I ought to finish it anyway. It was interesting though to see the original which was done in a stylized Kabuki fashion, beautifully shot at that, and the remake which is shot on location taking a bit of grimier more realistic approach to the same material.

Both versions tell the story of the son and the mother as the mother becomes very accepting of the final trip to Narayama whereas the son is hesitate. That is only the center point of the film though as it also tells various other stories involving the hardship of the village life before the time comes for the mother's trip. The 83 version has even more side characters including Tatsuhei's loutish brother who takes up considerable time in this version in his attempts to get laid even if it involves doing it with animals. The son's role is somewhat limited in the first half of the film, although Ogata is give a bit more to do than Teiji Takahashi who played the role in the original film. Both actors take a fairly similair approach though which is portraying Tatsuhei as a rather stoic figure. For most of the film Tatsuhei is a very subdued to presence as he's just a man trying to go day to day to care for his family in difficult circumstances.

There certainly are many problems for poor Tatsuhei as he has an obnoxious son, his aforementioned brothers, the impending fate of his mother, and just the problems of being a poor peasant to deal with. Ogata handles his part certainly well within its fairly tense limitations. Whenever we see Ogata we understand what the man is going through, and Ogata even makes Tatsuhei humble way of dealing with things wholly understandable. Ogata portrays Tatsuhei as honestly just a man who bears the difficulty of his life, Ogata presents the face of a man who knows how things are just as he knows that there really is not anything he can really do to change it. Ogata makes Tatsuhei the man of the world he should be, and although I don't think Ogata's performance always makes the greatest impact in these scenes, I do find he stands out just as he should.

Even when something more dire occurs such as retribution when one family steals from the others, which involves burying the family alive. Ogata suggests the severity of this punishment in his expression yet still stays reserved which fits Tatsuhei's character. Ogata strikes up the right balance since he's not a meek man really more of a dutiful one. There is a internal strength that Ogata properly exudes from Tatsuhei even though he never does speak out against various things, and not because he's a coward rather because he finds it to simply be the way things are. The brief moments of stronger emotions are well quite brief for most of the film. Ogata always makes them completely honest and wholly poignant by showing them almost having to pierce through the armor contentment he tends to wear otherwise. These moments though are rather few and far between and Tatsuhei is not truly focused upon as lead until the last act of the film.

The final act is when Ogata has to deliver his mother to her resting place with her silently riding on his back for a long journey. This is highlight for Ogata's performance as he does do an exceptional job of reflecting the intense emotions going through Tatsuhei as he must understand that he is bringing his mother to die. Ogata begins keeping the modesty of Tatsuhei intact although always subtly suggesting how this is tearing Ogata apart. Ogata is particularly affecting in one moment where Tatsuhei takes a break and loses his mother thinking she has gone home. Ogata is quite wonderful in so naturally suggesting the happiness of  a son who loves his mother, only to have it dashed when he finds her ready to continue her journey moments later. Ogata manages to be so moving by being so delicate in his transition from the moment of hope to once again facing the inevitable his mother seems to support.

Tatsuhei finally does break down when he's finished the journey and brings his mother to her final resting place. Ogata very much has earned Tatsuhei's emotional devastation by this point and quite powerfully shows just how much the man loved his mother, and is being torn apart by this love and his perceived duty. This is an interesting performance to examine as what Ogata achieves so well is creating the essence of this sort of man completely. You never need to guess about his Tatsuhei you always understand him no matter what the situation. It's an excellent portrayal of a pure naturalism as he makes Tatsuhei so honest in every element of the film, and even though the film focuses so rarely directly on him Ogata still completely Tatsuhei as a character. There is never a moment that seems false or untrue for the man straight to his final scene. Tatsuhei after leaving his mother goes home. Ogata shows no outrage over it, but instead he is so heartbreaking by portraying Tatsuhei as accepting the horrible reality of his life. This is not a performance really about big moments but rather creating a man true to life.


Michael McCarthy said...

I dunno if this was a coincidence or an acknowledgement of my comment, but if it was, thanks! I think I'll keep my predictions as they are.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I'm going to change my predictions now

1. Walken
2. Billingsley
3. Ogata
4. Woods
5. Pacino

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Rating and thoughts on Sakamoto.

Kevin said...

1. Walken
2. Billingsley
3. Ogata
4. Woods
5. Pacino

Anonymous said...

Louis, what are your ratings and thoughts on May Whitty in The Lady Vanishes and Night Must Fall, Claire Trevor in Dead End and Alice Brady in In Old Chicago and My Man Godfrey?

luke higham said...

Louis: You've still yet to put a link up for '04 Supporting.

Matt Mustin said...

What's your rating and thoughts on Hank Azaria in Dodgeball?

Louis Morgan said...


Sakamoto - 4(Out of the two versions I actually preferred Kinuyo Tanaka's take on the character which I felt was both more charming and haunting, which is funny since I preferred Ogata to Takahasi. Sakamoto I still found to be quite good in creating the mother as a comforting figure, as you fully understand Ogata's pain, but as well always feels honest in her portrayal of the mother's devotion to her eventual death)


Whitty - The Lady Vanishes - 4(A very endearing performance as she successfully makes you care about the mystery. She also does rather fine job of having the right determination in her reappearance to make her secret profession actually believable)

Night Must Fall - 3.5(The show belongs to Robert Montgomery and everyone else is in his shadow a great deal. Whitty is reasonably enjoyable though in portraying the flighty and snobbish sides of her character)

Trevor - 4(She's usually good and this is no exception. In her one scene she is very effective in completely establishing her character honestly making her plight resonate despite the brevity of her appearance)

Brady - In Old Chicago - 2.5(I found her rather bland here basically, and just found little poignancy in her portrayal of a rather emotional role)

My Man Godfrey - 3(She's very one note but I found that note enjoyable enough, although only just enough)


Azaria - 3(I find most often that Azaria is pretty unfunny in many of his live action roles as he always goes a little too broad. This works here though and his quick cameo quite entertaining, particularly his laugh after the kid takes the hit in the face)

mcofra7 said...

1. Christopher Walken
2. Al Pacino
3. James Woods
4. Peter Billingsley
5. Ken Ogata