A Film For December: When a Women Ascends the Stairs

What an interesting, and thoroughly good, film this was to end the year. Written by Ryuzo Kikushima and directed by Mikio Naruse in 1960, it tells the story of Keiko, a young widow who works as a hostess in a bar in the Ginza district of Tokyo. It’s a contemplative and delicate study of a women facing the financial challenges posed by her family whilst maintaining her dignity.

`Her melodic, sombre voice-over guides us through the streets as everyday she walks up the stairs to the club with a heavy heart and the need for something to change. She could open her own bar, she could marry or easiest of all become the mistress of one of her wealthy customers. Or she could work in an office.

Bars in the daytime are like women without make up

Keiko (Hideko Takamine) has earned the respect and admiration of her colleagues and customers with her quiet grace and independence, but is it possible to maintain such ideals in the face of economic pressure and social expectations. She sees marriage as economic survival but also as dishonouring her late husband. And as both emancipation and repression. She sees her colleagues dealing with the same choices, some are lucky and others tragically not and in trying to reconcile herself with her own situation she suffers both misfortune and humiliation.

On the surface Keiko embodies a modern post war women in her expensive apartment, but with a light ‘slice of life’ touch the film makes serious social commentary about the intersection of traditional and modern Japanese culture and about women, especially those on the fringes, in society. A beautiful and moving film.

5 thoughts on “A Film For December: When a Women Ascends the Stairs

  1. This is on my notional list of films to watch, along with another two by the same director, currently on the BFI Player. I’m imagining a similar style to Ozu (Late Spring, Tokyo Story etc.), so it’s right up my street. Lovely to see that you liked it so much!

    Liked by 1 person

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