377 When a Woman Ascends the Stairs

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Buttery Jeb
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377 When a Woman Ascends the Stairs

#1 Post by Buttery Jeb » Thu Sep 15, 2005 10:34 pm

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs

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When a Woman Ascends the Stairs might be Japanese filmmaker Mikio Naruse's finest hour--a delicate, devastating study of a woman, Keiko (played heartbreakingly by Hideko Takamine), who works as a bar hostess in Tokyo's very modern postwar Ginza district, who entertains businessmen after work. Sly, resourceful, but trapped, Keiko comes to embody the conflicts and struggles of a woman trying to establish her independence in a male-dominated society. When a Woman Ascends the Stairs shows the largely unsung yet widely beloved master Naruse at his most socially exacting and profoundly emotional.

Special Features

• New, restored high-definition digital transfer
• Audio commentary by Japanese-film scholar Donald Richie
• New video interview with Tatsuya Nakadai
• Theatrical trailer
• New and improved English subtitle translation
• PLUS: A booklet featuring essays by film scholars Audie Bock, Catherine Russell, and Phillip Lopate


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The following is the schedule for the New York Film Forum retrospective on Mikio Naruse running from October 21st thru November 17th. Janus Films is co-sponsoring the event, along with the Cinematheque Ontario, Toho International and the Japan Foundation in both Tokyo and New York. I believe that this retrospective will be travelling to other cities in the next year, although I don't have an itinerary regarding those plans.

I'll leave the logistics of possible future box sets, DVD supplements and so on to people who actually know the films. Discuss.

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#2 Post by FilmFanSea » Thu Sep 15, 2005 11:25 pm

Alright, I've never seen a Naruse film, but I am so jealous of my friends in NYC who get to see this incredible-sounding retrospective. Film Forum hasn't added the titles and dates to their website yet. Can we assume that all of the Naruse films are being supplied by Janus? Or does New Yorker <groan> have the rights to some of them?

You gotta love the tagline, "NEW 35MM PRINT" ! Geez I hope that Seattle is in line for this series.

I haven't watched a film on VHS in nearly 2 years (not sure if my VCR---which is surrounded by dust bunnies---even works anymore). Maybe that's snobbery or just stupidity. I find that I have so many films to watch on DVD that I never even consider renting one on VHS (I never owned any films on VHS, either, because the technology never attracted me). So, for better or worse, I only watch films in the theater or on DVD.

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#3 Post by Cinephrenic » Fri Dec 16, 2005 5:44 pm

All credited to Criterion Collection/Janus from Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive:

Street Without End
Repast
No Blood Relations
When a Woman Ascends the Stairs
Mother
Scattered Clouds
Floating Clouds
Nightly Dreams w/Flunky, Work Hard!
Last edited by Cinephrenic on Fri Dec 16, 2005 5:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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#4 Post by Brian Oblivious » Sun Dec 18, 2005 6:00 am

Has it ever been found that a discovery of a film with a Janus credit leads to someone other than Criterion (or HVE) releasing it on R1 DVD?

Of course just because they have the rights to release something doesn't mean they automatically (even eventually) will. There needs to be a market, and there need to be decent elements. For example, if there isn't a better looking print of Mizoguchi's the Downfall of Osen out there than the one I saw at the PFA a couple weeks ago (not that it was that bad a print, just clearly not up to the standards DVD addicts expect), I wouldn't expect to see it appear on the release schedule, even though it did bear a Janus logo.

But rights are perhaps easier to find hard data for than the other two, so we obsess over them. Why not?

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#5 Post by Cinephrenic » Sun Dec 18, 2005 3:10 pm

All credited to Criterion Collection/Janus from Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive:
I've posted this news because Janus and/or Criterion has control over many Naruse films that we at this forum been bitching about in the last fews years for lack of Naruse films on DVD. There is not solid evidence that Criterion will release those and only those (I hope not) on a Criterion label. It's just good to see that they have a bunch of rights on their hands for his films. Just re-assuring news I think.

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#6 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Dec 20, 2005 12:22 am

Reassuring only if one thinks of plans over the course of a decade or two...

Given Criterion's lackadaisical handling of Ozu's films (compared not only to Hong Kong -- but the UK, France and now The Netherlands), can one expect a more sprightly pace when it comes to releasing DVDs of the work of an even less well-known Japanese director?

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#7 Post by Ted Todorov » Tue Dec 20, 2005 10:02 am

Criterion really needs to increase their release volume to eight titles a month. I understand their fear of competing with themselves, but ultimately I think that those who will buy every Ozu, Naruse, Rohmer, Rivette, Eustache, Malle, (...insert director you will instantly buy every title of here...) will do so hapilly. Any loss of sales to "Criterion completists" who can no longer afford to buy every title, will be more than made up for the fans of particular directors and films.

Indeed Criterion stands to make much more money by releasing films in a timely fashion, as hard core fans are currently buying non R1 versions of the films, and when Criterion finally gets around to them, don't double dip (recent examples in my case: Le Samourai; Touchez Pas au Grisbi; Port of Shadows...) These are sales that I would hapilly have given to Criterion if they were a little more timely with their DVDs and a little more forthcoming on their future plans (I understand that they wouldn't want to say anything if they are negotiating for the rights, buts once they have them, I don't see why they can't announce things as "a second half 2006 release" for instance.

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#8 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Dec 20, 2005 11:48 am

I think Criterion is miramaxing (or should that be weinsteining) Ozu. I think most of the films are not well enough preserved for Criterion to issue on DVD itself (people would just complain about how bad these physically deteriorated films look). On the other hand, they probably would not be willing to let others release the films on DVD -- as this could cut into the sales of the discs they do release.

I hope I'm wrong -- but the Ozu delay is becoming increasingly problematic. I just hope we don't see the same scenario play out with Naruse.

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#9 Post by Arn777 » Tue Dec 20, 2005 12:24 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote: I think most of the films are not well enough preserved for Criterion to issue on DVD itself (people would just complain about how bad these physically deteriorated films look).
Probably true, although I believe people are raedy to accept that the film elements are in poor conditions, Criterion could release them with an advance warning re print/sound quality and at a lower price point (e.g. 2 films for SRP US$30).

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#10 Post by shirobamba » Tue Dec 20, 2005 12:44 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote: I think most of the films are not well enough preserved for Criterion to issue on DVD itself (people would just complain about how bad these physically deteriorated films look).
I think, your reasoning comes close to the truth. If the Panorama releases reflect the actual state of preservation of the best available elements, Criterion might wait for a full restoration by the rights owners/studios. I'm very biased myself, if I should be more patient, and put quality above quantity, but...there is the collector in me as well.
For the time being, I'm happy with the cheap (in the monetary sense of the word) Panoramas as placeholders, and I would only doubledip into expensive Criterions, if the quality would be substantially superior, which would necessarily require a full-blown restoration of the films.
It would be different though, if the films wouldn't be available at all. F.e. I'm very glad, that MoC released Kurosawa's "Scandal", even though the quality of the film elements are subpar to their other releases (especially soundwise & ghosting/combing issues). So, I hope, that someone will put out as much Naruse as possible on DVD, sothat the films can be seen at all. If it should be Criterion is secondary IMHO.

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#11 Post by Gregory » Tue Dec 20, 2005 3:59 pm

During the retrospective I saw every one of Ozu's sound films not already released by Criterion (except There Was a Father) and in my opinion most of them are in sufficiently good shape for Criterion to release them. Some of them looked to be in optimal condition and Criterion certainly could have continued with those while waiting for the rest to be worked on. I mean, it's been over a year and a half since Criterion announced the last Ozu DVD. Even if they did release some with substantial flaws, most people would understand why, as they did with releases like Pepe le Moko and Ikiru.
Still, I can't say I have a good idea of what the real issue is.

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#12 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Dec 20, 2005 4:14 pm

The Ozu films are NOT going to be restored -- beyond the level of Shochiku's current restorations. They did the best they could with the relatively small amount of money available -- but.... (Shochiku's "Scandal" restoration was of the same basic sort).

So Shochiku's current sources are all that Criterion can have avaiable to work off. And while they are good enough for retrospectives, I don't think Criterion could feel comfortable with most of them. (However, Equinox Flower and Late Autumn are in relatively fine condition -- so no excuses there-- other than Criterion's prior botching of other Ozu color films.

Luckily, Toho's Naruse sources are (on average) in far better shape than Shochiku's Ozu ones. Of course, the market for these is even smaller.

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#13 Post by shirobamba » Tue Dec 20, 2005 4:56 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:The Ozu films are NOT going to be restored -- beyond the level of Shochiku's current restorations.
That's really bad news to me! So the only thing we can hope for is a private initiative like a Donald Richie Foundation for the preservation of the cinematic heritage of Japan, something like the F.W. Murnau Foundation in Germany. What the heck is Japan's National Film Museum doing all the time?

BTW: the Terayama Museum in Misawa has started a fund raising campaign in order to restore Terayama's filmic works some time ago. So, this perspective isn't all together utopian.

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#14 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Dec 20, 2005 5:06 pm

The University of Tokyo worked on an almost M-style restoration of "Tokyo Story" -- but I'm not sure the project was ever finished. Shochiku did not fund this -- and did not make use of any of the materials developed during the course of the project.

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#15 Post by zedz » Tue Dec 20, 2005 5:14 pm

I'm optimistic that Criterion will be releasing plenty of Ozu (and Naruse, and Mizoguchi) in the future, but it's likely to be a long-term thing. I'm pretty certain that the market for these directors is not (yet) as robust as that for Kurosawa, who seems able to sustain two to three releases per year, but I don't think we should underestimate their commitment to such major directors.

In terms of the substandard prints, there are strategies for dealing with these, such as including early silents as 'bonuses' with higher profile films, or packaging several films in various states of repair into value-for-money box sets. I certainly hope that there is the opportunity for Criterion to revisit some of Shochiku's transfers, however. There Was a Father is major Ozu and the present transfer was horribly botched. Surely Criterion could do a better job by taking the best available print, retransferring it, and doing some digital restoration?

On the volume issue, I think Criterion is right to keep such tight control over their rate of release. While I'd love to see more of the films I want most released, a lot of film enthusiasts like myself really are interested in the majority of their releases (give or take a Metropolitan) and aren't just after the works of two or three specific directors. Ozu isn't just competing with Naruse and Mizoguchi, but with Wajda, Godard, Welles and Roeg, and there's a real danger of self-competition even without allowing for label completists indifferent to content.

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#16 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Dec 20, 2005 5:40 pm

Some (too many) of the Ozu films _have_ no "best available print. In other words, the only known prints are dreadful. Barring discovery of additional (currently unsuspected) materials somewhere, one is stuck with what currently exists.

That said, Shochiku did botch the sound on its current prints of "There Is a Father". It seems to be a case of noise reduction gone horribly wrong. Curiously, the sound for "Only Son" (which was misbegotten from the time the film was made) fared much better (perhaps because it was less over-processed). The only pre-war or war-time film with a decently recorded and/or preserved soundtrack seems to be "What Did the Lady Forget?"

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#17 Post by Gregory » Tue Dec 20, 2005 11:23 pm

I don't see any reason to conclude that Criterion will not release a Naruse or two each year over the next few years strictly due to fear of low sales. After all, a portion of the films they release and even their directors have always been unknown to most of Criterion's customers as far as I can tell. Forbidden Games and Fists in the Pocket are the most recent examples of this.

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#18 Post by PfR73 » Wed Dec 21, 2005 3:54 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:other than Criterion's prior botching of other Ozu color films.
Can you explain your statement here? I am not familiar with the Criterion Ozu's yet and am wondering if there is a problem with them.

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#19 Post by Michael Kerpan » Wed Dec 21, 2005 5:07 pm

Ozu's "Good Morning" is outrageously mis-balanced color-wise -- and suffers from horrendous flicker. Ironically, their own prior laserdisc version (and the home video based on it) were somewhat better. The Panorama DVD (from Hong Kong) looks better overall -- but has somewhat less good subtitles. If you can play R3 DVDs, go with the HK one.

"Floating Weeds" looks much better overall -- but has a blue bias (or perhaps a yellow deficiency). Blue-greens come out as blue -- and facial coloring is not really quite right. The old laserdisc (and video) once again had a better color balance -- as does the Japanese DVD. alas, there is no perfect English-subbed DVD of this (as the UK version is much worse than Criterions's). Despite the slight (but annoying -- to me at least) color problem, the Criterion set is well worth buying. It also has a wonderful transfer of Ozu's 1930s (silent) version. The only negative point for this is the inappropriate accompaniment (which caqn always be turned off).

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#20 Post by Kirkinson » Tue Dec 27, 2005 5:14 pm

The Naruse retrospective comes to the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago for January/February. I would provide a link but it's not up on their web site yet. It was in their latest newsletter. First films are Mother and Yearning on January 7.

To those of you who have seen a decent number of his films, are there any I should make a particular point not to miss? Otherwise I'll simply attend whichever films my schedule allows.

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#21 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Dec 27, 2005 8:09 pm

Some "don't miss" Naruse films (in no particular order)

Floating Clouds
Lightning
Repast
Sound of the Mountain
Flowing
Yearning
Late Chrysanthemums
Nightly Dreams (Every Night Dreams)
Traveling Actors

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#22 Post by FilmFanSea » Tue Dec 27, 2005 10:10 pm

A 10-film Naruse Retrospective comes to Seattle's Northwest Film Forum, January 20 - February 26. Schedule & ticket info is here.

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#23 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Dec 27, 2005 11:10 pm

I'd recommend seeing everything being shown in Seattle (I think I saw all of these when they were in Boston). ;~}

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#24 Post by Anthony » Wed Dec 28, 2005 5:01 pm

Well, A-28 film Naruse Retrospective is coming to the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, Jan. 12th - Feb. 18th. Ha ha Seattle, we've gotcha beat this time.

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#25 Post by ben d banana » Thu Dec 29, 2005 3:53 am


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