Sunday, March 4, 2007

March 4th Log

1960, Mikio Naruse, Japan

1st Viewing, DVD

"I hated climbing those steps more then anything, but once I was up, I would take each day as it came". After seeing this for the first time on Thursday I quickly planned a repeat viewing as the film has left an unforgettable mark. I've loved the Mikio Naruse films I've been fortunate enough to see thus far, but When a Woman Ascends the Stairs may be my favorite and a film I'd rate among the very greatest ever made. Keiko is absolutely one of the greatest portraits of any character in film history and the performance by Hideko Takamine is remarkable. She flawlessly captures the beautiful, delicate, proud, and heartbreaking essence of the character, a widow who supports herself as a bar hostess. She represents the traditional Japanese values more then she does the prototypical bar hostess. As she begins to "age" Keiko is torn to the progressions of marriages or of owning her own bar. Keiko is faced with resilience as she is surrounded by a world of disappointment and hopelessness. This expression is represented by the image of the vertical stairs ascending towards the bar, taking Keiko on a path alone through life. Using a smooth jazz score and 1960s Japanese night clubs settings Naruse's bleak, expressionless melodrama is centered on a woman who fights to remain true to herself within the dishonesty and inconsistency of the world around her (notably the two biggest social pressures: men and money). Through subtle and masterful performances and filmmaking, When a Woman Ascends the Stairs becomes Naruse's purest work in defining his mastery of narrative rhythm, and also the definitive work in detailing the Naruse heroine as 'Mono no aware' in the sense that through the conflicts and troubles (be it social or economical) Keiko understands and accepts what is "right" because it is something that must be (even if sad). When a Woman Ascends the Stairs is a bleak and tragic film of brutal emotional and melodrama, yet Naruse's subtle style and Takamine's expressionless performance gives the film a truthfulness that is devastatingly authentic, transcendent, and perhaps even fulfilling.

>> Here are the masterful final moments. A triumphant truthfulness emerges from the heartbreak of her hidden emotion, as Keiko accepts that she has become what she did not want as rightness:

2005, Lasse Hallstrom, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

Though a completely different film Casanova reminded me very much of the old Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers romantic comedies. Casanova is far less iconic not quite as witty and charming overall, yet it shares the spirit of those films. The plot is rather silly and the tone is lighthearted fun and much like Top Hat for instance the comedic romance and chaos follows from mistaken identities. It is really one of the cliched techniques of romantic comedy, but when done right the formula and flaws can easily be forgotten. The key is either sharp dialogue or star power performances and strong chemistry. Casanova succeeds mostly because of the chemistry of the cast as well as the strong performances. Like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in Top Hat, we see Heath Ledger and Sienna Miller at each others throats early on, yet it is clear there is a connection and this is established through the chemistry of the performances. Ledger is especially good in a role that shows his versatility after his powerful performance in Brokeback Mountain. The supporting cast is memorable with a notably rare goofy performance by Jeremy Irons, and a surprisingly very funny Oliver Platt. Casanova is the kind of film that can be a delight if you allow it to be. Nit picking at flaws takes away from the silly playfulness of the films intentions. Enjoy this for what it is and you can discover the funny and intelligent performances and writing.


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