Tuesday, August 28, 2007

August 28th Log

1960, Mikio Naruse, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

"I hated climbing those steps more then anything, but once I'm up, I can take whatever happens". 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:


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