When a Woman Ascends the Stairs

(Onna ga kaidan o agaru toki)

Lecture/screening class (3 hours). Special admission applies.

  • Lecture

    Chair of the Department of Comparative Literature, and professor of film and media at UC Berkeley


Hideko Takamine, Masayuki Mori, Reiko Dan, Tatsuya Nakadai,

Hideko Takamine portrays the consummate Mikio Naruse heroine: high-minded, determined, and out of her element in a sordid world. Here it is the back-street bars of Tokyo’s Ginza district, which Naruse re-creates in all its busy detail and nighttime poetry. Keiko is a mama-san, or bar hostess, a modern, lower-scale incarnation of the geisha. A widow at thirty, and exploited by her selfish family, she realizes that she must either remarry or strike out on her own in the face of furious competition from other mama-sans. A devastating courtship with a longtime customer only reveals the true vulnerability of Keiko’s position. As she prepares to climb the stairs to her customers once again, in a haunting final scene, she expresses the sad litany of her life: “Then it gets dark . . . I hate to climb the stairs. But once I’m up, I trust to luck.”

Judy Bloch
  • Ryuzo Kikushima
  • Masao Tamai
  • Japanese
Print Info
  • B&W
  • 'Scope 35mm
  • 110 mins
  • Janus Films/Criterion Collection