In a time of cruelty and harsh famine, the residents of a dangerously impoverished village bring their elderly to the top of Mount Narayama, where they are left to die under the grace of the ancient deities. With her own ascent just a year away, 69-year-old Orin (Sakamoto) attempts to find a suitable wife for her widowed son, Tatsuhei (Ogata), who refuses to accept his mother’s inevitable fate.
Imamura’s retelling of this feudal fable, based on a Japanese novel, spares nothing in the way of brutal realities or the forbidding environment in which his characters (a family of five) scrape for survival. There are lurid twists, too, such as when Tatsuhei’s son brings home a dodgy, disgraced woman to live with the clan after a sexual rendezvous in the woods. But with self-preservation as his theme, Imamura juxtaposes the dignity of human endurance with the primal instincts of the bestial world, depicting a woman determined to leave the earth with a restful soul.