(aka 'Onna ga kaidan wo agaru toki' or 'When a Woman Ascends the Stairs')
When a Woman Ascends the Stairs might be Japanese filmmaker Mikio Naruse's finest hour--a delicate, devastating study of a woman, Keiko (played heartbreakingly by Hideko Takamine), who works as 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.
A 1960 film by Mikio Naruse, perhaps the greatest Japanese director as yet unknown to American audiences. Where most directors begin with an anonymous style, Naruse started out as a strong individualist (Wife! Be Like a Rose!) and gradually pared his work down to the sublime blankness of his late films, of which this is one. It's a melodrama of extreme emotional violence--about a woman (Hideko Takamine) who runs a bar in Tokyo's Ginza district and the seemingly endless series of betrayals that befall her--but Naruse treats it with such evenness that it becomes microscopically subtle: its deepest pain is conveyed by lack of expression on the actor's face.
Theatrical Release: June 25th, 1960 - Tokyo
DVD Review: Criterion - Region 1 - NTSC
|DVD Box Cover||
CLICK to order from:
|Distribution||Criterion Collection - Spine # 377 - Region 1 - NTSC|
Average Bitrate: 6.68 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s
NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.
|Audio||Japanese (Dolby Digital 1.0), Japanese "Perspecta" (Dolby Digital 3.0)|
commentary by Japanese-film scholar Donald Richie
The Criterion DVD is splendid. The progressive transfer is superior to the image quality of the Naruse, Vol. 1 boxset (featuring three older Naruse films) produced by Masters of Cinema in the UK - sharper, stronger contrast, brighter and vastly better than my old VHS copy of this very film. There is some minor flickering contrast, miniscule damage marks and although not fully pristine (contrast is a slight notch below usual standards for Criterion) as the film progresses detail appears to improve. The 2.35:1 Tohoscope, anamorphically transferred, widescreen is very impressive.
As with Yojimbo, Criterion offers, along with the mono, a 3.0 Perspecta track preserving the original simulated-stereo effects. I tested both but, personally, did not find any strong differences in the segments I listened to although the 3.0 sounded appropriately more dynamic to a very small degree.
Extras include a full audio commentary by Japanese-film scholar and veteran commentarist Donald Richie. He is intelligent, direct and filled with insightful knowledge. His professional manner gives further support as to why Criterion are the best DVD production company in the world. There is a 13 minute interview with actor Tatsuya Nakadai (Kenichi Komatsu, the manager in When a Woman Ascend the Stairs) - he reminisces about Mikio Naruse and details of what he recalls about the film production. There is a trailer (3:06) and a 38-page liner notes booklet with photos and essay input from film scholars Audie Bock, Catherine Russell, and Phillip Lopate.
Anyone keen at all on Japanese cinema should consider this a must-own DVD. With Naruse being the greatest Japanese director still unknown to many American audiences, and this DVD being the first in NTSC of a Naruse film, it gives viewers a wonderful insight into his often cold, bleak world (more cynical than both Ozu or Mizoguchi). A favorite film and one of the more anticipated DVD releases of the year so far.