This film has one of the most beautiful titles in my opinion! It is descriptive as it evokes an image of a beautiful lady making her way up the stairs elegantly, yet there is little clue on what exactly the film is about and leaves much room to the viewer’s imagination. The beautiful lady, Keiko, is played by Takamine Hideko who has acted in several other Naruse films such as “Floating Clouds” and “Lightning”. She is the head bar hostess and has to climb a steep staircase every night when she goes to work. This explains how the title comes about. The staircase is also symbolic of the obstacles that she has to overcome each day in order to survive.
Set in Tokyo in the early sixties, Keiko faced the same set of problems that women face today. She had to deal with pressures from work and from her family. At the workplace, she has a demanding boss but the manager likes her and she is on very good terms with the girls under her charge. Her public relations skills is put to good use when she deals with her customers that included a rich arrogant man, an old sugar daddy, a fat man who looked like her ex-husband and a good looking banker. Her family which included her mother, her retrenched brother and her polio inflicted nephew all depended on her to be the breadwinner.
I liked how voice over narration was used as both a social commentary and the inner thoughts of the lead actress! By listening attentively to what is being said and correlating it to the well shot documentary styled outdoor scenes of the city and ordinary people walking about, one is able to piece together a pretty concrete picture of people’s life then. The accompanying soundtrack that consists of light piano and xylophone music is soothing to the ears and does not distract one from the main story.
I also found out that the director was a very good story teller and was able to explain the cause of a certain action and its ripple effect of the resulting consequence really well! The tempo of the film was quick and I did not feel bored at any time! The director’s humanistic touch in the story also makes one feel for the character as they go through the ups and downs of their life.
This is one of the best Japanese films I have ever seen and I highly recommend it!