When A Woman Ascends The Stairs (Naruse, 1960)

Started by Chedney Honks, October 03, 2021, 09:27:27 AM

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Chedney Honks



I've never seen any other Naruse but this is a wonderful, quietly devastating film and I'll look forward to exploring more.

This is a gorgeously shot, noirish drama about 'Mama', a bar hostess and widow at a crossroads in life. Beautiful and enigmatic, played with a detached, demure intensity by Hideko Takamine, she has several wealthy suitors who would be able to take away her financial pressures overnight, if she would only give herself away. Although only 30, she's reached the point where she will soon be replaced by younger, fresher hostesses. Now is the time to decide whether to marry her way out of this world or to set up her own bar, by borrowing funds from her patrons.

Debt and restrictions and obligations weigh heavily throughout the film. There are constant pressures from family, friends, customers, bosses, the need for luxurious clothes and perfume in order to sell the dream to customers to earn back the money that was spent. It's such a suffocating world and the film does a great job of exploring the consequences of those pressures. It's a powerful critique of the tragic subjugation of women in Japanese society.

Tatsuya Nakadai also makes an appearance as the bar manager who holds a torch for Mama and he is as charismatic and brooding as ever. His resentful affection for Mama is one of the highlights of the film and the jazz xylophone soundtrack perfectly matches his moody emotional distance.

It's an often heartbreaking film with a great ending. I watched it via BFI Player but I'll try to pick up a physical copy if possible. It's one I'll definitely want to watch again. I very much recommend it.

I've only seen a couple of his films, at least 10 years ago, but he is very good at blending the traditional Japanese film about a tragic woman (which Mizoguchi did so well), with a lot of sociological and economic detail, so they have an extra level of naturalism. The other I've seen is Summer Clouds, which is about the decline of traditional agricultural life seen through the story of a woman farmer. It doesn't have a lot in the way of plot, but is full of detail, great images, and great performances, all of which gets across its theme incredibly well - and with elements such as the reporter visiting the farm and the details of city life, it's definitely not stuck in the past, and is less miserable than descriptions probably make it sound.

Herbert Ashe

Sometimes I think Naruse is my favourite Japanese director. He doesn't quite have the batting average of Ozu (the other contender) maybe because he was very much a company man, who could be relied on to complete films on time, on budget, so he often got stuck with projects that didn't quite suit him, so he's got quite a bit of lacklustre stuff in his filmography. But hey, 60 or so of his films survive, and something like a third of them are absolute top-tier stuff and another third or so is better than most other stuff.


QuoteIt's such a suffocating world and the film does a great job of exploring the consequences of those pressures.

Suffocating is absolutely a Naruse trademark. These oppressive, cramped interiors; abrupt editing giving you no relief. Love it to bits. The man's outlook on life was utter pessimism, and boy did he cram it into his films.


Quotehe is very good at blending the traditional Japanese film about a tragic woman (which Mizoguchi did so well), with a lot of sociological and economic detail


Offhand I can't think of any other filmmaker who makes you so aware of the value of every shitty little coin, especially for those on the breadline. Crops up in loads of his films (like with car crashes, and pathetically drunken husbands in dead-end jobs).

Not saying that either of these are better or worse per se, but I generally find Naruse's women far more convincing as 'real' people whereas Mizoguchi's seem to me to stray into archetypes much more (as I write that, I remember that David Desser book on the Japanese New Wave has an aside on this re:Mizoguchi so maybe I've just ripped him off)


AnOrdinaryBoy

Quote from: Chedney Honks on October 03, 2021, 09:27:27 AM


I've never seen any other Naruse but this is a wonderful, quietly devastating film and I'll look forward to exploring more.

This is a gorgeously shot, noirish drama about 'Mama', a bar hostess and widow at a crossroads in life. Beautiful and enigmatic, played with a detached, demure intensity by Hideko Takamine, she has several wealthy suitors who would be able to take away her financial pressures overnight, if she would only give herself away. Although only 30, she's reached the point where she will soon be replaced by younger, fresher hostesses. Now is the time to decide whether to marry her way out of this world or to set up her own bar, by borrowing funds from her patrons.

Debt and restrictions and obligations weigh heavily throughout the film. There are constant pressures from family, friends, customers, bosses, the need for luxurious clothes and perfume in order to sell the dream to customers to earn back the money that was spent. It's such a suffocating world and the film does a great job of exploring the consequences of those pressures. It's a powerful critique of the tragic subjugation of women in Japanese society.

Tatsuya Nakadai also makes an appearance as the bar manager who holds a torch for Mama and he is as charismatic and brooding as ever. His resentful affection for Mama is one of the highlights of the film and the jazz xylophone soundtrack perfectly matches his moody emotional distance.

It's an often heartbreaking film with a great ending. I watched it via BFI Player but I'll try to pick up a physical copy if possible. It's one I'll definitely want to watch again. I very much recommend it.

I did my MA dissertation on Naruse, Ozu and Mizoguchi and how they represent women in film - he truly is a wonderful filmmaker and much undervalued, and his films has a mindset that feels even more meaningful nowadays,