Mikio Naruse Collection (BFI) View large image
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Film Details

Directed by: Mikio Naruse

Produced: 1960

Countries & Regions: Japan

DVD Details

Certificate: 12

Studio: British Film Institute

Format: DVD

Region: Region 2

Released: 26 November 2007

Cat No: BFIVD694

Extras:
Languages(s): Japanese
Hard of Hearing Subtitles: English
Subtitles: English
Screen ratio 1:1.33

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Mikio Naruse Collection (BFI)

Cast: Masayuki Mori , Reiko Dan , Hideko Takamine , Isao Yamagata , Haruko Sugimura , Mariko Okada , Chikako Hosokawa , Sadaka Sawamura

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Three of Mikio Naruse’s finest films, now widely regarded as among world cinema’s greatest achievements. ’When a Woman Ascends the... Read More

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Three of Mikio Naruse’s finest films, now widely regarded as among world cinema’s greatest achievements. ’When a Woman Ascends the Stairs’ (1960) is a heartbreaking tale of a middle-aged bar hostess’s (Hideko Takamine) attempt to escape her existence set to a soundtrack of tinkling cocktail jazz and filmed in black and white Cinemascope. In ’Floating Clouds’ (1955), based on the novel by Fumiko Hayashi, the elegance and indisputable hard punch of Naruses’s storytelling become immediately clear the moment the lovers kiss and the director cuts, mid-clinch, to an almost identical shot of them kissing in the past. This film is based on flashbacks, which tell a story of forbidden love between a forester (Masayuki Mori) and a typist (Takamine) during and after WWII. In ’Late Chrysanthemums’ (1958), again based on works by Hayashi, Kin (Haruko Sugimura) is a retired geisha who has become a coldly efficient moneylender. Even her old colleagues are indebted to her. Then an old lover she remembers fondly shows up asking for money...
It seems the West is finally catching up with the exquisite work of Mikio Naruse (1905-1969), a contemporary of Mizoguchi and Ozu, and a filmmaker whose great sensitivity to postwar Japanese cultural and emotional pressures ranks him among the world’s greatest moviemakers.

By all accounts, a quiet and self-effacing artist, Naruse often crafted fine melodramas reflecting modern loneliness and isolation, but infused them with strong, resilient characters (usually women) who navigate life’s difficulties with a powerful sense of personal integrity. Like the Hollywood auteur Douglas Sirk, Naruse fashions stories about domestic disillusionment, but highlights the inner life with such precision and clarity that he makes even the most everyday setting seem monumental.

The British Film Institute now offers three of Naruse’s most esteemed classics along with a bevy of critical supplements, beginning with When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960). This heartbreaking and immersive masterpiece focuses on a successful bar hostess who dreams of consolidating her resources – financial as well as social – in order to establish her own business. But like the foreboding entryway she ascends each evening to meet her demanding clientele, her dream seems continuous and ever receding. Naruse’s widescreen compositions, use of light jazz, and his colorful ensemble cast bring the film into vivid, memorable relief.

Several of Naruse’s best films were adaptations of famed postwar novelist Fumiko Hayashi; such is the case with the other two films in this collection. Floating Clouds (1955) is Naruse’s most popular film in Japan, detailing an affair between wartime lovers who meet abroad but reunite in postwar, defeated Japan; the woman’s frustrated attempts to initiate commitment mirror her country’s turbulent milieu caught in the throes of dramatic social change. Late Chrysanthemums (1958) – combining several Hayashi stories – is a masterly portrait of the interactions of four aging, former geishas who compare and contrast their midlife worldviews through a complex network of relationships. The film adds surprising warmth and humor to Naruse’s typically sober inclinations, and it’s aided tremendously by Ozu regular Haruko Sugimura, who offers a mulilayered performance as a character who treasures her investments above all matters of the heart.

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