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Thursday, July 15, 2010

ONNA GA KAIDAN WO AGARU TOKI / WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS (1960)

The 80-plus films of Mikio Naruse went largely unseen in the States before he died in 1969. They still have gained only limited Western exposure, but this relatively late work would be a fine place to start. It’s a chamber-sized story about a 30 yr-old widow (the superb Hideko Takamine) whose life as a bar hostess has just about run its course. Should she raise the money to open her own club (perhaps let a sugar-daddy front her?) or settle down in a proper marriage. But with whom? One of her loyal customers? There seem to be many suitors, but they all have their drawbacks and, perhaps, secrets she’d rather avoid knowing. Yet, she can’t simply go on with things as they are. Her life style uses up most of her money and there’s a mother, a brother & his polio-afflicted kid to support on the other side of town. It’s the stuff of woman’s melodrama, but not under Naruse’s exquisite, quietly memorable handling. He combines something of Yasujiro Ozu’s observational skills with Frank Borzage’s female empathy. And he works just as well with the men. Tatsuya Nakadai is exceptional as the bar manager with an unrequited case on Takamine, he seems to grow up as an actor under Naruse.

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