Wednesday, April 4, 2007

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs

The first film in our series is the timeless melodrama, When a Woman Ascends the Stairs. The film was released by Toho Studios on January 15, 1960. The date is significant, because Japanese studios typically released their most prestigious films around New Years.

Toho lavished a remarkable amount of talent on the film. The cast is headlined by Hideko Takamine, one of the studio's most popular actresses. Her leading men include Masayuki Mori, just then reaching the peak of his professional career, Tatsuya Nakadai, an emerging heart-throb and action star, Ganjiro Nakamura, the venerable star of stage and screen, and Daisuke Kato, the ubiquitous character actor. Popular Toho starlets Reiko Dan and Keiko Awaji completed the cast.

The script was written by Ryuzo Kikushima. One of the foremost scenarists of the 1950s and 1960s, Kikushima is best known internationally for his work with Akira Kurosawa on Stray Dogs (1949), Yojimbo (1961), and Sanjuro (1962).

At the helm of this production was the renowned director Mikio Naruse. After starting his directorial career in 1930, Naruse quickly rose to prominence, winning the prestigious Kinema Junpo Best Picture and Best Director awards in 1935 for his film Wife, Be Like a Rose!. After this promising start, however, the director hit an artistic slump that lasted for almost two decades. It was only in 1951 that he ressurected his career with the film, Repast, starring Setsuko Hara. This film marked the beginning of the most productive phase of Naruse's career. During the next eight years, he directed some of the most memorable films ever produced in Japan, including Lightening (1952), Mother (1952), Sound of the Mountains (1954), Late Chrysanthemums (1954), Floating Clouds (1955), and Flowing (1956). This series of classics culminated with When a Woman Ascends the Stairs.

Naruse in the 1930s

Poster for Wife, Be Like a Rose!

Setsuko Hara and Ken Uehara in Repast

Hideko Takamine and Masayuki Mori in Floating Clouds

Naruse's films typically focus on the plight of women. His female protagonists are ordinary individuals beset by mundane financial, familial, and romantic problems. Yet Naruse was always able to convey the beauty and dignity of these common characters as they struggle to overcome everything that life throws at them.

Hideko Takamine excelled in this type of role. Indeed, she made a total of seventeen films with Naruse, establishing them as one of the great director-actor partnerships of Japanese cinema to rival the collaborations of Kenji Mizoguchi and Kinuyo Tanaka, Yasujiro Ozu and Setsuko Hara, and Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune.

Before embarking on this fruitful partnership with Naruse, Takamine had already known considerable success, first as a child star and then as an ingenue. Aside from her work with Naruse, she is best known for films such as Composition Class (1938), Horse (1941), Where the Chimneys Are Seen (1951), The Mistress (1953), Twenty-Four Eyes (1954), and most famously Carmen Comes Home (1951), the rollicking tale of a stripper who returns to her home in the countryside.

Takamine in Tokyo Chorus (1931)

Takamine in Composition Class

Takamine in Carmen Comes Home


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a poster of Hideko Takamine, an innocent face Nippon Eiga Star album, look at

March 17, 2009 at 9:45 AM  

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