When A Woman Ascends The Stairs review

Until very recently, even cinephiles might’ve had only a vague idea that Naruse was a contemporary of Ozu, Mizoguchi and Kurosawa, and held in equally high esteem in Japan. A DVD box set on the Masters of Cinema label made a lot of film fans take notice, and a retrospective now makes its way to the BFI Southbank, with this rigorously composed 1960 feature as its centerpiece. Like many of Naruse’s melodramas, this is a sympathetic account of the plight of single women in Japanese society. Keiko (Takamine Hideko), or “Mama-san”, is a bar hostess working in Tokyo’s Ginza district. Her job is to flirt with the customers, but her only hope for the future is to land a husband or a generous “patron”. Step by step, we watch even these options close off. A heartbreaker.

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