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WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS

Japan, 1960 (MIFF 1988, Mikio Naruse Retrospective)

Director: Mikio Naruse

A young widow with no children, Keiko Yashiro (Takamine), works as a bar madame in Tokyo's exclusive Ginza nightclub district. Her wealthiest customer, Minobc (Ozawa), has been seduced by a girl who used to work for Keiko, Yuri (Awaki), and has set the rival up with her own bar She tries to raise money for her own bar by getting subscriptions from all her customers, but she succumbs to the most attractive among them, Fujisaki (Mori), only to learn he is leaving Tokyo Komatsu berates her for the one-night stand, then proposes, then leaves when she rejects him Keiko resumes her life of climbing the stairs to a bar every night, but not before returning Fujisakfs stock certificates to his wife.

Having celebrated the decline of the institution of the geisha in such films as Flowing, in this film, generally regarded as the highpoint of his career, Naruse rums his attention to the modern phenonemon that has replaced the geisha die bar hostess Again his heroine, here played bv Hideko Takamine, is a typically highminded and impractical, and because of these qualities throws the sordidness of the world she lives in into sharp relief But in the bar world the vestiges of traditional values seen among the fifties' geisha have vanished here there is no loyalty whatsoever, and the only skill the women have is that of flattering men to take their money. Naruse spares no detail of sleaziness among the characters that surround Keiko her boss' brutality is underlined by the fact that he is a non-Japanese Asian, Keiko's own family go after her like leeches, when Yuri dies the first creditor to appear is Minobe's own representative, the moment Junko finds herself alone with one of Keiko's customers she takes advantage of him, Komatsu puts Keiko on a pedestal while toying with as many women as he can. Keiko's voice-over narration at first appears to be omniscient, but the accumulation of these details and characterizations around her culminate in a feeling of horror that she, resuming her stair-climbing at the end, does not see

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