This month has unintentionally been alloted to re-discovering classic Japanese cinema. I forget clearly now how I was introduced to it, though. Might be through the broadcasts of the defunct UHF channel 31 of Kurosawa (and Fellini) movies, or having seen the birth (or early years) of the Eiga Sai Japanese Film Festival back in the mid-90s.
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, entertaining 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. (Synopsis from Criterion Collection.)
Shortly after seeing that, I found out that Takamine died late last year.