Directed by: Mikio Naruse
Countries & Regions: Japan
Studio: British Film Institute
Region: Region 2
Released: 26 November 2007
Cat No: BFIVD694
Hard of Hearing Subtitles: English
Screen ratio 1:1.33
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Mikio Naruse Collection (BFI)
Three of Mikio Naruse’s finest films, now widely regarded as among world cinema’s greatest achievements. ’When a Woman Ascends the... Read More
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.