Saturday, January 21, 2006

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs

Onna ga Kaidan wo Agaru Toki
Director: Mikio Naruse
Length: 111 min.
Format: 35mm
Date Viewed: 21 January

The only thing I like better than American melodrama is Japanese melodrama. Japanese acting, reaching back to the Noh theater, is more often than not a little over-the-top. This style carried over into films (and continues today) which of course lends itself very well to melodramatic movies. Of course, it's even better when melodrama is perfectly underacted, which is the case in Mikio Naruse's masterful film, When a Woman Ascends the Stairs. Employing the 60s Japanese filmmaking style I love so much - gorgeous Tohoscope cinematography revealing a booming post-war Tokyo, slick men's and beautiful women's costume design, fun jazzy scores and fantastic production design - the film revolves around the head hostess at a Tokyo hostess bar as she stands at a crossroads that will lead her to one of three different futures. Hideko Takamine, who plays the lead hostess, Keiko, gives a tremendous performance, caught between the lives of three men, each of which come to represent one of the three paths. The three men, played by frequent Kurosawa collaborators Masayuki Mori, Tatsuya Nakadai and Daisuke Kato, are similarly outstanding in their roles, giving perfectly subtle performances. The story unfolds slowly over the course of two hours, revealing layer after layer of carefully repressed truth and desire. There's nary a flaw in the film, which plays as part of a Mikio Naruse retrospective at the Northwest Film Forum during the next four weeks. If you are in the Seattle area, or in another of the 20 American cities the series is coming to, I strongly recommend that you go and see some of the films. You won't be disappointed.


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