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This is the story of Mama, a.k.a. Keiko, a middle-aged bar hostess who must choose to either get married or buy a bar of her own. Her family hounds her for money, her customers for her attention, and she is continually in debt. The life of a bar hostess is examined as well as the way in which the system traps and sometimes kills those in it. Written by
This is my first Naruse film and, boy, what a treat it is! Hideko Takamine is simply brilliant in her evocation of a madame in the ginza bar district, where businessmen go in the after-hours for drinks, flattery, and anything else they can get their hands on.
Takamine's Keiko is a woman bound by social constraints: an aging mother who needs allowance from her daughter to get by, a brother who must be saved from prison because he forged legal documents, a nephew who needs money for operation, rich businessmen and corporate owners who want her body in exchange for petty patronage...
Despite all these attempts to stifle her, to drain her body, labor, and emotions for all their worth and resource, Keiko emerges from life's disappointements and heartbreaks the strong individual she tries to be. Her refusal to be defeated by family, men, the institution of the ginza bar and survival itself is reflected in many elements. The playful music, for example, discourages us from reducing the film to yet another tearjerking festival. Keiko herself is an intelligent and sophisticated commentator on her life as a particular kind of "fallen woman". Throughout the film, there are moments of narration and commentary on the ginza bar-mystique. Here we witness a resilence and self-respect so tremendous that the notion of "feminism" of Mizoguchi's women have to be reconsidered.
"Coming back was as bleak as a cold day in Winter. But certain trees bloom...no matter how cold the wind." WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS is a great testament to Takamine's acting wizardry and Naruse's sensitive treatment of the social construction of women - a particular way of brutalizing the individual.
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