When a Woman Ascends the Stairs

Watch When a Woman Ascends the Stairs

  • NR
  • 1960
  • 1 hr 51 min
  • 8.1  (4,811)

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, a Japanese drama film from 1960, is a masterful study of the complex world of geisha culture in post-World War II Japan. Directed by Mikio Naruse, the film stars Hideko Takamine in the role of a geisha struggling to make a living in a competitive World War II era environment. The film offers a nuanced and insightful exploration of the lives of geishas, the challenges they face, and the resilience of the human spirit.

The film follows the life of Keiko, a senior geisha working in a bar in Tokyo's Ginza district. Keiko aspires to become a bar owner herself, but she finds herself trapped in a world of gender discrimination, feudalism, and men who hold power over her profession. Keiko has to rely on the men she entertains to earn a living and survive in a male-dominated world. The film's script is full of sharp commentary on the male-dominated social order, such as when Keiko's mentor warns her: "men are splendid creatures as long as they have money." Keiko has to navigate this complex and treacherous world, full of backstabbing and competing interests.

The title of the film is explained at the beginning when Keiko explains that it takes the same amount of effort to ascend the stairs as it does to descend but that ascending is harder to do. This metaphor extends to Keiko's life where she has to constantly climb upwards to achieve her goals. Keiko embodies the idea of resilience as she is always pushing forward and adapting to the situation.

One of the most significant themes of the film is the contrast between old and new. Keiko's world is rapidly changing, and the post-World War II Japan is becoming Americanized. This change is shown when Keiko talks about the young women who are now starting to come into the bar sphere. Keiko is the old guard in this world, and she has to adapt to remain relevant, but the question remains whether she can survive. The lighting and set design in the film also convey this sense of the old and new, with deep shadows juxtaposed with neon lights and modernist architecture.

Keiko's relationships with men are central to the plot of the film. The customers she entertains are all men who expect a certain kind of service that goes beyond the physical, and Keiko has to fulfill their expectations lest she lose money. One of those men is played by Tatsuya Nakadai, who gives a masterful performance as a businessman who becomes one of the most important people in Keiko's life. Over the course of the film, the two develop a relationship that is full of complexity, as the businessman is both a patron and a potential love interest. The chemistry between the two is palpable, and their delicate dance of power and affection is beautifully rendered on screen.

The film features an impressive ensemble cast, full of complex and nuanced characters that give the film its depth. The other important male character in the film is played by Masayuki Mori, who portrays a man full of regret and sadness. His character serves as a foil to Keiko, as he has chosen to remain in the same place in life while Keiko is constantly moving forward. Their relationship is just as complex and fraught with difficulty as Keiko's relationship with the businessman.

The film is also noteworthy for its technical achievements, with gorgeous black-and-white cinematography and a haunting score that adds emotional depth to the film. Director Mikio Naruse's direction is understated and subtle, allowing the performances of his actors to shine.

In conclusion, When a Woman Ascends the Stairs is a film that is both of its time and timeless. Its exploration of the world of geishas is still as relevant today as it was over half a century ago. Hideko Takamine gives a deeply moving performance as Keiko, a woman who embodies resilience, strength, and the drive to succeed. The film's themes of female empowerment, the struggle for independence, and the fight against discrimination are as important today as they have ever been. When a Woman Ascends the Stairs is a masterpiece of cinema, and it should be seen by anyone who loves the art form.

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs
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  • Release Date
  • MPAA Rating
  • Runtime
    1 hr 51 min
  • Language
  • IMDB Rating
    8.1  (4,811)