The centrepiece of BFI Southbank’s Mikio Naruse season (see Other Cinema), this brilliant melodrama is a contender for reissue of the year. It’s a film which encapsulates the strengths of this masterly Japanese director whose work has barely been seen here. He’s known as a great director of actresses, and his signature performer Hideko Takamine is outstanding as a middle-aged hostess struggling to maintain her self-respect in the sleazy whisky-lubricated environs of Ginza’s bar circuit, as she wrestles with the dilemma that the admirers who could offer her financial security demand her ‘reputation’ in exchange. Battling to support her family and keep her own long-suppressed emotions in check, each night that she climbs the stairs to smile at the clientele is a painful reminder of her limited options. Fascinating as social study, painstakingly assured as storytelling, this compares with Sirk’s ‘All That Heaven Allows’ and Fassbinder’s ‘Fear Eats the Soul’ as a heartbreaking portrait of a defiant woman outflanked by the repressive mores around her. A new classic.
When a Woman Ascends The Stairs
Cast and crew