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When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (The Criterion Collection)

4.7 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs might be Japanese filmmaker Mikio Naruse's finest hour - a delicate, devastating study of Keiko (the heartbreaking Takamine Hideko), 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. (Image Entertainment)

Amazon.com

Although its title is not instantly recognizable in the Great Movies canon, When a Woman Ascends the Stairs qualifies as a modest, graceful masterpiece. This 1959 film by Mikio Naruse has, like the director's reputation in general, slowly gained traction in the decades after Naruse's death in 1969... much like a woman quietly, discreetly walking up a staircase (the film's central and repeated image). The film considers the plight of a hostess in a goodtime-establishment in Tokyo's famous Ginza district; with her youth gone, it is now time to buy a bar of her own or latch onto a husband/benefactor. She is played by Hideko Takamine, a veteran of 17 Naruse films, whose melancholy, indomitable performance is the soul of the movie. The postwar production design is enhanced by the drinks-after-dark jazz music, which really roots in the film in an arena of almost desperate 1950s capitalism. The black-and-white widescreen photography, a jumble of slanting signs and beams and screens, fits Naruse's subtle method, which eschews big melodrama in favor of an incredibly nuanced appreciation for life's quiet disappointments. Naruse can offer no greater triumph than simply placing one's foot on a stair each night and summoning the strength to climb the staircase to work. In this film, that's enough. --Robert Horton

On the DVD
Bonus features are not extensive on Criterion's excellent disc, but they include an informative commentary track with Japanese-film guru Donald Richie and a lovely 13-minute interview with Tatsuya Nakadai, the mighty actor who was still a young up-and-comer when he played a supporting role in this film. A strong booklet includes a touching memorial essay about Naruse by leading lady Hideko Takamine and an appreciative essay by Philip Lopate, who keenly observes of the film, "[T]he preference for enlightened stoicism over glib redemption is pure Naruse." --Robert Horton


Special Features

  • New, high-definition digital transfer
  • Commentary by Japanese film scholar Donald Richie
  • New video interview with actor Tatsuya Nakadai
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • New and improved subtitle translation
  • A booklet featuring essays by Audie Bock, Catherine Russell, Phillip Lopate, and Hideko Takamine

Product Details

  • Actors: Hideko Takamine, Tatsuya Nakadai, Masayuki Mori, Reiko Dan, Daisuke Katô
  • Directors: Mikio Naruse
  • Writers: Ryûzô Kikushima
  • Producers: Ryûzô Kikushima
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, Closed-captioned, Dolby, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: Japanese
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: February 20, 2007
  • Run Time: 111 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000KRNGNQ
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #99,152 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By C. Boerger on January 16, 2006
Format: VHS Tape
I happened across this film years ago on the video shelves of a local library and checked it out on a whim. Engrossed from start to finish, I immediately fell in love with When a Woman Ascends the Stairs and declared it one of my absolute favorites. That status has not changed after multiple viewings.

In Mama-san, Hideko Takamine creates one of film's most memorable characters. Her facial expressions tell the whole story, her warmth, dreams, cynicism, disappointments, most of all her quiet, subtle desperation centering on wanting to do something with her life before it becomes too late(making her a typical Naruse heroine). Watch the final closeup of Takemine before the film fades to black and try not to be moved. Her performance is the film's greatest strength, but she is ably supported by an all star cast which includes Masayuki Mori, Tatsuya Nakadai and Reiko Dan. Naruse's direction is also a major asset, creating atmosphere via wonderful performances(already mentioned), a jazzy, downbeat soundtrack, several establishing shots of the Ginza which create a relentless feeling of urban alienation, a "dark" look which establishes a nighttime mood, all of these factors enhanced by the director's use of widescreen Tohoscope.

Naruse's film seems to be modeled after Hollywood melodramas and "women's pictures" of the 1950's, as many critics have pointed out, but it is also somewhat similar to the Fellini film Nights of Cabiria which was made a few years earlier.
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Format: VHS Tape
Like fellow film director Kenji Mizoguchi, Mikio Naruse often portrayed the plight of women in Japanese society. This movie is about a senior hostess at a Ginza bar who tries to gracefully fend off the unwanted advances of customers. Everyone seems to want her for one reason or another; either they want her body, or in the case of her family, they want her money. Her life is one emotional betrayal after another. But through it all, she tries to maintain her dignity. And she manages to persevere. In the movie, there is the recurring image of her ascending the stairs to the bar where she works. "After it gets dark," she says, "I have to climb the stairs, and that's what I hate. But once I'm up, I can take whatever happens."
This is a movie about courage and the triumph of the human spirit amid adversity. Hideko Takamine, who plays the bar hostess, is one of Japan's greatest actresses. Sadly, only a handful of her movies have made it to America. She gives one of her best performances in this film.
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Format: VHS Tape
one of mikio naruse's last masterpieces was 1960's "when a woman ascends the stairs" - it is also one of only two of the great director's films currently available in any video format in the u.s. but wow, what an introduction it is! this seemingly modest film about a woman on the edge of a precipice, winding her way through dismal back alleys and cheap bars in search of an out is one of the great character pieces in world cinema. crisply shot in black and white widescreen (which is admirably reproduced in this edition), this beautifully directed and acted film is an absolute must for anyone interested in movies. the sadness lies in the knowledge that this kind of film is not made anymore; there's no one talented enough to pull it off nearly as well. class and subtlety are a rare commodity and this film has just the right amount of both. it's perfect, one of the greatest films of all time, one i come back to again and again.
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By A Customer on June 18, 2000
Format: VHS Tape
When a Woman Ascends the Stairs is not one of Mikio Naruse's best films, but it is quite good enough to show anyone unfamiliar with his work what a sensitive and uncompromising filmmaker he is. Just as Ozu devoted most of his work to the disintegration of the Japanese family, Naruse concentrated almost invariably on the lives of women in Japanese society. His films are often sad and his 'endings' are somewhat less than uplifting, but when you watch, in When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, his heroine (played beautifully by Hideko Takamine) betrayed by the men she turns to for help and/or salvation, it becomes clear that Naruse was a great director - not as versatile as Mizoguchi, but unjustly neglected.
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Format: VHS Tape
A late masterpiece in the paradoxical career of the Japanese master Mikio Naruse: Naruse was the first Japanese filmmaker to have a film released in the US (WIFE BE LIKE A ROSE, in the 1930s), only to then slip into obscurity outside of Japan during subsequent decades. Since his death in the late 60s, there have been a handful of revivals in interest: retrospectives screened in the 1980s and early 90s; and the VHS releases of three films - MOTHER (OKASAN), LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS and this film, also in the early 90s. With the publiciation of Donald Richie's ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF JAPANESE CINEMA, another resurgence in interest has begun to build, and DVD releases are appearing in Japan and several European countries; this hopefully portends at least a few US DVD releases.

In the meantime, there is this magnificent film. I don't know of any of Naruse's non-Japanese cinematic influences, but LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS vaguely reminded me of Italian neo-realism in its' settings; here I was reminded of Douglas Sirk and Billy Wilder. Naruse is often compared to Yasujiro Ozu, and there are similarities, but in this film at least, Naruse seems to gravitate towards an angrier point of view, a sensibility that hovers between the lines, behind women (and men) locked into a much-abused service sector (of a variety), and generally at the mercy of most everyone. The protagonists here struggle to find ways of succeeding in a very harsh world; a world of surface glitter, and isolation underneath. As with LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS, Naruse crafts a film suffused with bitter ironies.
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