When a Woman Ascends the Stairs

Onna Ga Kaidan Wo Agaru Toki

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Dir. Mikio Naruse

Japan 1960 | Black & white | 111 mins | Cert PG | Drama

Cast: Hideko Takamine, Masayuki Mori

Hideko Takamine plays Keiko, a young widow who works as a hostess in Tokyo’s neon-lit Ginza district. Every night she ascends the stairs of a sleazy whisky bar and forces herself to drink, joke and flirt with wealthy businessmen. At the age of thirty, however, Keiko has reached ‘the turning point in a woman’s life’ and faces a stark choice – either to re-marry or to open a bar of her own. The atmosphere of late '50s Tokyo is strikingly evoked in Masao Tamai’s superb black and white Scope photography, while Toshiro Mayazumi’s xylophone cocktail jazz score further strengthens the impression of metropolitan modernity. Above all, though, Naruse’s masterpiece derives its power from its remarkable range of subtle, nuanced performances, especially that of Hideko Takamine who portrays Keiko’s complex motivations with heartrending delicacy.

Available on: DVD, 35mm

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