Special Series
Free, Mikio Naruse

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs


Directed by: Mikio Naruse
1960 / 111 minutes / Unclassified all ages

A Ginza hostess’ search for independence in a man’s world

Based on an original screenplay by Ryūzō Kikushima and often considered to be Naruse’s magnum opus, When a Woman Ascends the Stairs is a touching tale of social injustice and emotional turbulence during post-war Japan. Keiko, more commonly known as Mama, is an ageing hostess working in the glamorous Ginza entertainment district. She finds herself at a turning point: should she seek marriage, stay in a career that will vanish with her youth, or pursue a business of her own? As the men surrounding her turn out to be a string of bitter disappointments, Mama finds herself wondering whether she actually has any agency in determining her life.  

The courageous female protagonist, portrayed by Hideko Takamine, represents the true embodiment of the conflicts of a woman longing to establish her independence in a male-dominated society, with her character being emblematic of all women whose stories we tend to forget. 



MIKIO NARUSE: A Glimpse of Japan’s Unsung Master

This film is part of JFF 2022’s Special Series, which proudly presents the work of a master in Japanese filmmaking, Mikio Naruse (1905-1969).  

Naruse’s career in film spanned 1930 to 1967, during which time he made close to ninety films primarily of the shōshimin-eiga genre (dramas about the common people). His consistent direction of nuanced bodily movement, subtle gesture and prolonged side glances to express human feeling is punctuated by the superb performances of recurring actors, above all Hideko Takamine, with whom Naruse worked with on seventeen films. He focused primarily on domestic dramas and the intersection of traditional and modern culture, depicting the human struggle through an honest and sensitive lens.  

While his films have rarely been shown in Australia, Naruse is considered one of the masters of Japanese cinema alongside canonical greats Yasujirō Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi and Akira Kurosawa.

The four films featured in this program shine a light on Naruse’s poignant observation of the growing tension surrounding familial and societal conformities in a changing, postwar era of Japana theme that pervades the director’s remarkably crafted body of work. 

See all the films in the special series HERE

Audience warning: contains mild sexual references and suicide

Sunday 13th November

Walk-ins only. Doors open 15 minutes prior to the screening.

QAGOMA, Brisbane

Friday 18th November

Walk-ins only. Doors open 15 minutes prior to the screening.

QAGOMA, Brisbane

Friday 2nd December

ACMI, Melbourne

Monday 12th December

The Chauvel Cinema, Sydney

Sunday 6th November

National Film and Sound Archive, Canberra

Screens in: Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra

Director: Mikio Naruse

Cast: Hideko Takamine, Tatsuya Nakadai, Reiko Dan and Masayuki Mori

Genre: Special Series

Category: Free, Mikio Naruse

Language(s): Japanese with English subtitles

Format: 35mm b&w