When a woman ascends the stairs (1960) has been reviewed by Antoine in the framework of the topic Reflections and Poetic.

Among the eighty-nine films made by Mikio Naruse, only forty-four survived at the time, including the excellent WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS The STAIRS (1960) which is also reflected in cinema in the month of December (distributed by Les Acacias). As good numbers of these two, japanese, Naruse has learned the trade on the job, without any technical training. In good self-taught, he climbed the ranks in the studios : props to Shochiku, he became assistant director of Heinesoke Gosho , and friend of Yasujiro Ozu. But it is at the Toho (formerly PCL) that he will design his most beautiful films (The Meal, The Mother, Clouds summer, Clouds floating) with, in the guise of actors, the “cream of the cream” of the time : Setsuko Hara, Masayuki Mori, Kinuyo Tanaka, Toshiro Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, and of course his muse, Hideo Takamine.

It is more particularly in the 1950s and 1960s that it shows in the gendaigeki (contemporary films), genre little in vogue at the time compared to the jidaigeki (films in period costume), and more particularly in the sub-genre of the shomingeki (” films on the small people “). More pessimistic than his “master” Gosho where these “little people” were even able to sublimate, the work of Naruse’s post-war is a study of characters on the social misery and the cruel irony that is the human condition. WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS The STAIRS… it is always better to back down. The trajectory societal Keiko aka “Mama” (masterful Hideo Takamine), a woman of a certain age who still dream of freedom, is a real obstacle course, running as a finding quasi-anthropological on the status of women. The walk to the top is fraught with peril, Keiko did finally stop moving backwards.

By its style ” ozuesque “, full of restraint in the way to enter in the details of daily life a vacuum, a desperation no-frills or theatrics, Naruse agency a cinema of suffering, frustration, and repetition without ever falling into a lyricism to bombastic or a pathetic pessimistic. And yet, the quest for happiness is almost impossible for him (unlike Ozu) ; a contentment, a form of precarious balance more than freedom, is more likely to be the image of these plans where the cycle of life begins and finally its course. It is the staging of the japanese concept, mono no aware, that is to say, the resignation to be fulfilled in the return of the order of things, that works in the heart of the film. Barwoman, Keiko made this work by necessity, not by delight. Kind of a lament without end, the emotion of the film comes from the feelings of regret and longing that animate the different characters. Despite his experience, Keiko maintains a form of innocence in her relation to men (she is fooled by a self-styled businessman who promised him to marry him) and elders (a mother castratrice), which led gradually to close in on herself to force disappointment.

“By his style” ozuesque “, full of restraint in the way to enter in the details of daily life a vacuum, a desperation no-frills or theatrics, Naruse agency a cinema of suffering, frustration, and repetition without ever falling into a lyricism to bombastic or a pathetic pessimistic.”

It is also a fight unspeakable against the tradition (filial piety, rituals, customs, forms of politeness) ; an internal conflict that ends up torturing most of the characters : the manager of the bar (Tatsuya Nakadai) and the banker (Masayuki Mori) are unable to express, or rather to live, the passionate love which he bears to Keiko. It is this fragility (she has lost a first husband in an accident), this form of incommunicability between human beings, which gives them this very great beauty and humanity that characterize the works of Naruse. As for good numbers of his films, the interpretation of the actors, often frustrated by the lack of indication of Naruse during the catch, should be eloquent in spite of the subtlety of the emotions as they play. As Naruse does not play with the symbolism of the decorations and objects, or with the gestures and postures of the actors. It is a cinema purged of all these artificial forms (movements of the camera, extras…), or even almost any expressive visual compositions almost trivial) despite the use here, almost “psychological”, of the voice-over, Keiko sharing its feelings with the viewer.

But it is alive and well in the editing, in particular in the fittings of the gaze, that of kinship relationships, and that is tied to the intimate drama of his films. It has often been said of Naruse that he needed a scenario that corresponded to its sensitivity to be able to make a great film and that literature was his main source of influence (more than the cinema, for example), but the work of assembling remains with him as the cornerstone of his cinema, the duration is where it all happens, but where everything can crumble in an instant. It is this meticulous work that is the basis for all the emotional strength of the film, an art he practiced with consummate skill.

With WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS The STAIRS, Naruse directed a beautiful film about the condition of the ordinary people who are struggling, constantly, to stay dignified and honest in spite of falls and other disappointments own life. It is also by his singular style that Naruse manages to transcend these relations based on the non-said, to give this art the time that is cinema, its dimension, the more pure, the more essentialist.

Antoine Gaudé

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