Film’s Most Epic Quests

Acclaimed director Keisuke Kinoshita adapted a Shichirō Fukazawa novel in 1958, setting his haunting film in rural, 19th-century Japan. Ballad of Narayama — which arrives on Blu-ray from Criterion today — explores an ancient folkloric tradition in which elderly and infirmed relatives are carried to a mountain and left to die. Orin (Kinuyo Tanaka) approaches her 70th year and faces her final days on Mount Narayama, but she embarks on a quest to secure her family’s happiness before her journey to the mountain. It’s an allegorical, stylish Japanese classic that inspires thoughts of other epic film quests — stories that defined obsession, sacrifice, adventure, greed, self-discovery, and a search for the truth. Add to our list, below.

There Will Be Blood

Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a 19th-century gold miner who monopolizes a California town that happens to be an untapped wellspring of oil. A tycoon is awakened, and Plainview embarks on his ruthless quest for wealth, sacrificing his own son on the altar of an oil rig that explodes, signaling Plainview’s singleminded purpose. An opportunistic businessman posing as his brother and an ambitious preacher are mere cogs in the pipeline for Plainview who eventually isolates himself in his mansion built on sludge.