“The Ballad of Orin” is a very pretty, very tranquil, very boring film.
Because the setting is Japan, there’s automatic, built-in prettiness on account of the lush, gorgeous cherry blossoms everywhere you look, and cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa, who also shot “Yojimbo” and “Rashomon” for Akira Kurosawa, captures equally pretty images throughout the Japanese drama.
It’s a good thing the movie is so pretty to look at, though, because the storytelling in “Ballad” is tranquil both in the pastoral sense and in the hit-in-the-neck-with-a-tranquilizer-dart sense: It’s equally poetic and dull.
Directed by Masahiro Shinoda, “Ballad” is the decades-long tale of a young blind girl named Orin, who is orphaned by her mother at the start of the film and taken in by a band of Japanese “goze,” blind female musicians who travel the countryside performing for locals. Goze live by a strict set of rules set by Buddha, and when Orin grows old enough to appreciate sex, she is ousted from the group and switches to peddling clogs with a protective deserter (Yoshio Harada).
Shima Iwashita, who won the Japanese Hochi Award for her portrayal and is married to Shinoda in real life, is terrific as Orin, a beauty who believes Buddha made her blind to shield her from the ugliness of the world. In “Ballad,” the “ugliness” comes in the form of rape, murder, gangsters, jail time, betrayal and suicide, although not one of those attributes are able to add life to the deliberately deliberate pace of the film.
“The Ballad of Orin” is being championed as a product of the Japanese new wave, which, like “In the Realm of the Senses,” although much, much less explicit, is a step away from the more traditional works of early Japanese cinema. This new wave is an attempt to focus more on social injustice, radicalism, sexual violence and the changing roles of women in society, but even that makes “Ballad” sound more lurid and suspenseful than the movie we actually get.
Rated: Not rated, but contains scenes of violence and rape
Director: Masahiro Shinoda
Starring: Shima Iwashita, Yoshio Harada
★★ (out of ★★★★)