Mikio Naruse Collection


When a Woman Ascends the Stairs /
Onna ga kaidan o agaru toki (1960)       

Floating Clouds / Ukigumo (1955)

Late Chrysanthemums / Bangku (1954)


Titles

 


 

The BFI presents three of Mikio Naruse's finest films, now regarded as among world cinema's greatest achievements.


Naruse's films celebrate, without extravagance , the lives of ordinary people struggling for something better than the hand fate has dealt them. Performed with quiet certainty by superb actors, shot and edited with a sure and relentless hand, they raise the ordinary and even the sordid to a quality near sublime.

Audie Bock, Artforum
 

Disc 1: When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Onna ga kaidan o agaru toki)

Japan/1960/106 mins/black and white/Japanese language/Ratio: 2.35:1 (16x9) anamorphic
Naruse's magnificent 1960 melodrama. An elegant essay in black and white Cinemascope and tinkling cocktail jazz, this tale of a bar hostess' attempt to escape her lot could give heartbreak lessons to Fassbinder and Sirk.

J Hoberman, The Village Voice
 

Disc 2: Floating Clouds (Ukigumo)

Japan/1955/118 mins/black and white/Japanese language/Ratio:1.33:1
The elegance and indisputable hard punch of Naruses's storytelling become immediately clear the moment the lovers kiss and the director cuts, mid-clinch, to an almost identical shot of them kissing in the past, an edit that suggests this is a passion that transcends even time and space

Manohla Dargis, New York Times
 

Disc 3: Late Chrysanthemums (Bangiku)

Japan/1954/97 mins/black and white/Japanese language/ Ratio: 1.33:1
It is something to see Sugimura counting money, and sticking a wad efficiently into her kimono top. When her heart has been broken one last time by an old lover asking for money, she burns his photograph in a scene of chilling finality.

Phillip Lopate, A Taste of Naruse

Posters

Theatrical Releases: Various from 1950 - 1955

  DVD Reviews

DVD Review: BFI - Region 2 - PAL

DVD Box Cover

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Distribution BFI - Region 2 - PAL
Time: 1:46:24 + 1:58:24 + 1:37:09 (all 4% PAL speedup)
Bitrate:

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs

Bitrate:

Floating Clouds

Bitrate:

Late Chrysanthemums

Audio Japanese (original mono) 
Subtitles English, None
Features

Release Information:
Studio: BFI

Aspect Ratio:
All Original Aspect Ratios - 1.33 

Edition Details:

• Freda Freiberg, Japanese cinema expert: segmented audio commentaries; video interview with Adrian Martin; essay
•  Paul Willeman: video and written essays
•  Barnard Eisenschitz: video interview with director Teruo Ishii, Naruse's assistant
•  Adrian Martin: new essay
•  Theatrical trailer for When a Woman Ascends the Stairs
•  Fully illustrated booklet with essays. 

DVD Release Date: November 26th, 2007
3 transparent Keep Cases inside a cardboard box
Chapters:
10 X 3

 

 

Comments:

Supplementing the Masters of Cinema Mikio Naruse Vol. 1 boxset, followed by Criterion's When a Woman Ascends the Stairs - we have only the third ever DVD release of Naruse films for English friendly audiences. And many may consider it to contain his most important works. I do. Mikio Naruse demands a certain deserved reverence with film fans. His non-judgmental cinema creates a kind of pragmatic balance between compassion and sensitivity... steeped in subtly deep melodrama but frequently with an overall bleak and pessimistic outlook. It is quite impacting and often unforgettable.

Although the 3 main features of this boxset are housed in individual (transparent) keep cases - see images above and below - they are not sold separately at this time and can only be obtained in BFI's Mikio Naruse Collection Boxset. They are in the PAL standard, coded for Region 2 and have optional English subtitles. All three discs are dual-layered. I will discuss the supplements below.

Image:

Quality varies somewhat. Firstly, When a Woman Ascends the Stairs is anamorphic but does not appear to be progressively transferred - although this weakness is hardly noticeable. What I suspect is that, like MoC, BFI were given NTSC 'master sources' of this film and while Masters of Cinema decided to release them in that standard - BFI tried to convert them to PAL (for their PAL-locked audiences) but the variance in frame rates caused this minor combing (we see similar in some silent film transfers, although we now understand that combing is not necessary if you are given the correct source - and can convert). The conversion (proof is in the time - 4% faster than the Criterion) is a far better way to go than transferring an unconverted source like New Yorker Video in Region 1 frequently does. This produces a more prominent weakness known as 'ghosting'. Anyway, on my system I would not have diagnosed the DVD deficiency and was only able to see it through the magnifying glass of my computer. Aside from this When a Woman Ascends the Stairs is not far off the Criterion picture-wise (contrast, detail etc. - a few more artefacts) where the biggest differences I noted were in the subtitle translation (see below). I, obviously, can't say with certainty that it is wrong, but it is different in spots. Personally, I didn't find it altered the inference of the dialogue. The BFI may show more damage than the Criterion but it is in no way intrusive enough to impinge upon your viewing experience. This BFI disc has a 16 minute Freda Freiberg interview with writer Adrian Martin, another interview/introduction on the film (7 minutes) by Freiberg, a theatrical trailer and a separate commentary, with optional English subtitles, for about the first 15 minutes of the film. She brings up some salient points but even in this short space does some narrating and explanation of the storyline.

Floating Clouds has some damage - mostly in the form of light to heavier vertical scratches. Overall it has the same level of detail as When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, with decent contrast, but be prepared that there are times when significant speckles and scratches quickly drift through the image. It is not horrible - but it is there. On the extras on this disc Freiberg gives another short commentary of about 10 minutes of the film and another intro/interview for 10 minutes and Paul Willemen (Professor of Media, Film & Journalism - University of Ulster) does a very good 7 minutes on the film. I think this and Late Chrysanthemums may be my favorite Naruse films. It has a tendency to be overpowering in its barren subtleties.

Late Chrysanthemums appears to be from a somewhat weaker source than the other two. It is remarkably dark - of course, for all I know it was mean to be this way (most probably not this dark). I am very happy that BFI didn't try to alter this by manipulating the brightness level. I noted one instance of chroma but you get used to the dusty contrast pretty quickly and the film is another stunning masterpiece. I hope the captures below give you a fair idea of what to expect when you purchase this package (that has our highest recommendation). I should note that I noticed no minor 'combing' on this or Floating Clouds as I did on When a Woman Ascends the Stairs. In the supplements here is another segmented Freiberg commentary (about 15 minutes worth), Professor Willemen again for an informative 25 minutes and a translated interview with Teruo Ishii, a director and writer who worked with Naruse.

Audio - Pretty decent with some soft hiss but overall dialogue remained consistent and clear. It is expected that there are some dynamic weakness considering it is mono and the age/condition of the films but it is easily acceptable enough for standard viewing. Comparatively speaking the audio may be on a par with the video quality of each film.

All editions have optional subtitles in English - white font with a black border. Expectantly there are no untoward grammar/spelling flaws that I noted.

The extras are a valiant attempt and very much appreciated. Great job by all the participants. There is also an illustrated 32-page booklet contains extensive essays by Freda Freiberg, Adrian Martin and Paul Willemen.

Well, this will have definite impact on my own DVD of the Year 2007 voting. I'm just spitballing off the top of my head here but I feel this may be the best 3-film boxset I have ever seen (cinematically speaking) - possibly joining the Criterion Dreyer box (and some others I am not recalling at this time). This is  MUST-OWN folks - I can finally throw out my old VHS' dubs. Thank you BFI for your commitment to outstanding important masterpieces like these. Good grief - I feel like putting this in my safe.    

Gary W. Tooze

 


 

Transparent Keep Case Cover

 

 

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs / Onna ga kaidan o agaru toki (1960)

Director: Mikio Naruse

 

 

DVD Menus


 

Commentary Subtitle sample

 

 

Screen Captures

 

(Criterion REVIEWED HERE - Region 1- NTSC TOP vs. BFI - Region 2- PAL BOTTOM)

 

 

(Criterion REVIEWED HERE - Region 1- NTSC TOP vs. BFI - Region 2- PAL BOTTOM)

 

 

 

 


Transparent Keep Case Cover

 

 

Floating Clouds / Ukigumo (1955)

Director: Mikio Naruse

 

 

DVD Menus


 

Commentary Subtitle sample

 

 

Screen Captures

 

 

 

 

 

 


Transparent Keep Case Cover

 

 

Late Chrysanthemums / Bangku (1954)

Director: Mikio Naruse 

 

 

DVD Menus


 

Commentary Subtitle sample

 

 

Screen Captures

 

 

 

 

 


 

DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:

 

Distribution BFI - Region 2 - PAL




 

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Gary Tooze

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