When a Woman Ascends the Stairs might be Japanese filmmaker Mikio Naruse’s finest hour—a delicate, devastating study of a woman, Keiko (played heartbreakingly by Hideko Takamine), who works as a bar hostess in Tokyo’s very modern postwar Ginza district, who entertains businessmen after work. Sly, resourceful, but trapped, Keiko comes to embody the conflicts and struggles of a woman trying to establish her independence in a male-dominated society. When a Woman Ascends the Stairs shows the largely unsung yet widely beloved master Naruse at his most socially exacting and profoundly emotional. —The Criterion Collection
Mikio Naruse is one of the least known of Japan’s early master directors, both in the West and in Japan, yet he created some of the most moving, darkly beautiful works in Japanese cinema. Like Kenji Mizoguchi, Naruse showed an uncanny understanding for the psychology of women. Like Yasujiro Ozu, he preferred subtle shifts of character over broad strokes of plot. Unlike either of these early greats, however, Naruse’s vision of humanity was much darker and more clinical. He stripped all vestiges of hope or acceptance from his films, what remains is only a willful struggle to endure. His relentlessly negative view of human existence has resulted in Naruse’s often being labeled a nihilist.
Born in Tokyo, in 1905, Naruse was the youngest of three sons of a desperately poor embroiderer. Although he excelled in elementary school, his family could not afford to further his education. He was instead enrolled in a two-year technical school. There, he spent virtually all of his free time… read more
Nick Pinkerton in the Voice on Five Japanese Divas, running from tomorrow through April 21: "Rarefied Ozu, bold Kurosawa, saturnine Naruse
I suppose this could be seen as Naruse’s direct response to the New Wave growing in Japan at the time.
The opening titles sound out an icy jazz score as if it
were one of these modern… read review
Beautifully shot in black and white and a sheer pleasure to watch. A special mention of Nakadai. I don’t think I have ever seen any actor deliver such a huge variety of roles in his career as this… read review