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Andrew

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs

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In my 2020 goal to not only watch and review more current and recent cinematic releases, I'm striving to watch 'classic' films with more regularity.  So far in 2020, this 1960 film by Mikio Naruse has been my favorite discovery.  Criminally, it's the only talkie by Naruse that's available for Region 1 disc players, despite his high esteem and an oeuvre that includes 75 (!) features.

I'd love to hear from any others who have seen this film, or others by Naruse, but here are some preliminary thoughts:

- Naruse has a reputation for being a 'director of women,' and on the basis of this single film, I can see why.  Its nearly exclusive focus on the life of Keiko/Mama (Hideko Takamine) is a rich study of an imperfect, sturdy, complicated, yet ultimately admirable woman.  In Takamine's incredible performance, we observe a woman pressed on all sides - for money, affection, emotional support - who only allows herself to crumple sporadically, but most of the time keeping up a strong front.

- The acting and script are masterful examples of the layers present in communication.  The words and eyes say one thing, but the sum of verbal and nonverbal cues often convey something else entirely.  This is certainly a part of polite, deferential Japanese public conduct, but obviously it's universal to a greater degree.  

- The choice to be understated and prosaic pays huge dividends in this film.  Mama is dealing with real-life stuff:  paying off bill collectors, fending off groping hands, coping with a nagging mother and decent but irresponsible brother.  Two-thirds or three-quarters of the way through, when Mama allows herself to be vulnerable with someone she perceives is a kindred, kind and lonely spirit, the catharsis is intense and completely earned.  

- As a lover of films by Ozu and Kurosawa, it was fun to see actors regularly employed by them - Tetsuya Nakadai most obviously, but countless others - in quite different roles.  Like Ozu, Naruse is a master here of domestic drama and the clash of traditional and new/western fashions and values.  Unlike Ozu, the occasional voiceover and focus on shoes ascending the titular stairs give this film almost a 1940s noir feel.  And the focus of the drama here is much more individualistic than familial.


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

http://secularcinephile.blogspot.com

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I could have sworn we had a thread about this film, but I must have been thinking of this: http://artsandfaith.com/index.php?/topic/5312-nobody-knows-new-film-by-hirokazu-kore-eda/&do=findComment&comment=272775

Just referencing the Q&A in which Koreeda responded to audience member trying to compare his characters to Ozu and saying he thought they have more in common with Naruse's characters. I remember watching the film not long after and having favorable response, but not much beyond that.

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