Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|When a Woman Ascends the Stairs Criterion Collection|
Actors: Hideko Takamine, Tatsuya Nakadai, Masayuki Mori, Reiko Dan, Daisuke Kato
Director: Mikio Naruse
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
When a Woman Ascends the Stairs might be Japanese filmmaker Mikio Naruse?s finest hour?a delicate, devastating study of Keiko (the heartbreaking Takamine Hideko), a bar hostess in Tokyo?s very modern postwar Ginza district... more »
A moving masterpiece
C. Boerger | Columbus, OH USA | 01/16/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I happened across this film years ago on the video shelves of a local library and checked it out on a whim. Engrossed from start to finish, I immediately fell in love with When a Woman Ascends the Stairs and declared it one of my absolute favorites. That status has not changed after multiple viewings.
In Mama-san, Hideko Takamine creates one of film's most memorable characters. Her facial expressions tell the whole story, her warmth, dreams, cynicism, disappointments, most of all her quiet, subtle desperation centering on wanting to do something with her life before it becomes too late(making her a typical Naruse heroine). Watch the final closeup of Takemine before the film fades to black and try not to be moved. Her performance is the film's greatest strength, but she is ably supported by an all star cast which includes Masayuki Mori, Tatsuya Nakadai and Reiko Dan. Naruse's direction is also a major asset, creating atmosphere via wonderful performances(already mentioned), a jazzy, downbeat soundtrack, several establishing shots of the Ginza which create a relentless feeling of urban alienation, a "dark" look which establishes a nighttime mood, all of these factors enhanced by the director's use of widescreen Tohoscope.
Naruse's film seems to be modeled after Hollywood melodramas and "women's pictures" of the 1950's, as many critics have pointed out, but it is also somewhat similar to the Fellini film Nights of Cabiria which was made a few years earlier. Both films are episodic, both deal with "working girls," although at different levels, both have a sympathetic heroine even though she works in an industry that isn't respected by society at large, both heroines are tricked, or almost tricked, into false marriages, the music scores for both movies are similar, quirky, inspired by American music but with touches distinct for each composer, and finally, and most importantly, both films end with devastating closeups of the heroines' faces backed by musical crescendos, creating two of the most moving endings in film history, and two of the most indelible images. There is even a Ginza bar called Cabiria seen in the background when Mama and her manager visit the establishment they are thinking about buying. Perhaps this was intended as an homage?
At any rate, my only complaint about the video is that the picture quality is imperfect. I recently saw this film on the big screen as part of a Mikio Naruse retrospective playing at a Columbus arts center, and it appeared to have been remastered, the picture quality was pristine, making the film even more lovely and the viewing experience that much more fulfilling. Hopefully this restored print will inspire a DVD release of this little known classic so that its reputation, and impact, will become deservedly more widespread. In the meantime, though, I hope the video only format doesn't deter any potential viewers, because this is truly one of the all-time greats, not only of Japanese cinema but of cinema in general."
An unheralded masterpiece
Kristopher Kincaid | Vietnam | 12/28/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"one of mikio naruse's last masterpieces was 1960's "when a woman ascends the stairs" - it is also one of only two of the great director's films currently available in any video format in the u.s. but wow, what an introduction it is! this seemingly modest film about a woman on the edge of a precipice, winding her way through dismal back alleys and cheap bars in search of an out is one of the great character pieces in world cinema. crisply shot in black and white widescreen (which is admirably reproduced in this edition), this beautifully directed and acted film is an absolute must for anyone interested in movies. the sadness lies in the knowledge that this kind of film is not made anymore; there's no one talented enough to pull it off nearly as well. class and subtlety are a rare commodity and this film has just the right amount of both. it's perfect, one of the greatest films of all time, one i come back to again and again."
Late Masterpiece From Mikio Naruse
David Alston | Chapel Hill, NC, USA | 10/01/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A late masterpiece in the paradoxical career of the Japanese master Mikio Naruse: Naruse was the first Japanese filmmaker to have a film released in the US (WIFE BE LIKE A ROSE, in the 1930s), only to then slip into obscurity outside of Japan during subsequent decades. Since his death in the late 60s, there have been a handful of revivals in interest: retrospectives screened in the 1980s and early 90s; and the VHS releases of three films - MOTHER (OKASAN), LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS and this film, also in the early 90s. With the publiciation of Donald Richie's ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF JAPANESE CINEMA, another resurgence in interest has begun to build, and DVD releases are appearing in Japan and several European countries; this hopefully portends at least a few US DVD releases.
In the meantime, there is this magnificent film. I don't know of any of Naruse's non-Japanese cinematic influences, but LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS vaguely reminded me of Italian neo-realism in its' settings; here I was reminded of Douglas Sirk and Billy Wilder. Naruse is often compared to Yasujiro Ozu, and there are similarities, but in this film at least, Naruse seems to gravitate towards an angrier point of view, a sensibility that hovers between the lines, behind women (and men) locked into a much-abused service sector (of a variety), and generally at the mercy of most everyone. The protagonists here struggle to find ways of succeeding in a very harsh world; a world of surface glitter, and isolation underneath. As with LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS, Naruse crafts a film suffused with bitter ironies.
And also a film of great visual power - the World Artists VHS edition isn't up to Criterion standards, but even in this presentation, some stunning widescreen cinematography and rich, velvety B&W compositions make every moment of this complex melodrama a treat.
The cast is loaded with recognizable faces from classic Japanese cinema; the stars Hideko Takamine and Tatsuya Nakadai give memorable performances. Anyone whose familiarity with Nakadai is based only on his performances in HARAKIRI, SWORD OF DOOM, REBELLION or SWORD OF THE BEAST would do well to seek this out; the versatility seen here cements his reputation as one of the finest actors in Japanese cinema.
A film that is - in every way - worth an effort to see.
Maintaining dignity amid adversity
C. Boerger | 01/26/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Like fellow film director Kenji Mizoguchi, Mikio Naruse often portrayed the plight of women in Japanese society. This movie is about a senior hostess at a Ginza bar who tries to gracefully fend off the unwanted advances of customers. Everyone seems to want her for one reason or another; either they want her body, or in the case of her family, they want her money. Her life is one emotional betrayal after another. But through it all, she tries to maintain her dignity. And she manages to persevere. In the movie, there is the recurring image of her ascending the stairs to the bar where she works. "After it gets dark," she says, "I have to climb the stairs, and that's what I hate. But once I'm up, I can take whatever happens."This is a movie about courage and the triumph of the human spirit amid adversity. Hideko Takamine, who plays the bar hostess, is one of Japan's greatest actresses. Sadly, only a handful of her movies have made it to America. She gives one of her best performances in this film."