Tag Archives: unrequited love

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs

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Nearly at the end of it (Nakadai’s big scene), I felt that I had seen Naruse’s 1960 “Onna ga kaidan o noboru toki?”/“When a Woman Ascends the Stairs” (to a Ginza bar over which she presides) before. I found the movie slow, though not excruciatingly slow, and not because I remembered the plot. I shared the frustrations of the woman, the widow Yashiro Keiko (Takamine Hideko), who dreaded having to go up those stairs and make men happy and drunk. “But once I was up, I would take each day as it came,” she resignedly said.— even with fresh obstacles to surmount in order to get by, affronts from clients and kin, and younger women striking out on their own after she trained them.

Takamine was great, nearly impassive though not opaque to viewers (whether that is due to her acting, Naruse’s direction, or Kikushima Ryuzo’s writing). Nakadai Tatsuya plays Komatsu Kenichi, a manager who admires her and, in particular, her not selling her body over the course of five years in the business. He is pretty bland until his penultimate scene. I don’t know why the client whom Yashiro loves is the chilly Fujisaki (Mori Masayuki), but making good decisions is incompatible with the soap-opera genre (and Naruse refused to provide a romantic happy ending).

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Pudgy Katô Daisuku delivers a performance to Yashiro that doesn’t quite break her heart, but breaks the heart of the viewer on her behalf. In showing the impossible lot of women without husbands, the film brings Mizoguchi (Street of Shame in particular) to mind, though Yashiro is not ground to dust like a Mizoguchi victim (surviving with a mouthful of ashes more like a Douglas Sirk protagonist, though the visuals are very different). With splendid b&w cinematography by Tamai Masao albeit with few camera movement (though more variety of camera placement than in Ozu movies).

The Japanese re-release trailer gives away far too much plot. The Criterion Collection bonus feature interview with Nakadai is excellent. He says that he learned a lot about screen-acting from Takamine, though he was scared of her. He says she was kind but not at all warm. And that he received very little direction from Naruse (Takamine, who was in 17 of his movies, said the same thing).

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

 

Mifune as the Japanese Cyrano in “Samurai Saga”

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Mifune Toshiro has an out-of-body experience, as he dies amidst falling cherry blossoms in the Japanese adaptation (in color) of “Cyrano de Bergerac” to the time of Tokugawa victory, “Samurai Saga” (Aru kengo no shogai, 1959, directed by Inagaki Hiroshi, who also directed Mifune in “The Samurai Trilogy” and “Rickshaw Man.”

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Most of it is like the latter undistinguished movie about unexpressed and unrequited love, though there is a military campaign in the middle, with Christian (Jirota, played by Takarada Akira) and Cyrano (Komaki, played by Mifune with a thickened but not lengthened nose) fighting against the Tokugawa army.

I found it slow, like “Rickshaw Man.” I don’t remember what I thought of the pace of the Samurai Trilogy, but it was stretched out to three movies! Until the battle of Sekigahara, no one dies in the typically 20+:1 sword fights in “Samurai Saga.” But the Tokugawa army has muskets and mows down enemy troops without engaging in close (swordfighting) combat with Mifune et al.