Mikio Naruse is the most beguiling of Japanese directors. As Kurosawa said, Naruse's films are like "the flow of a deep river, with a calm surface hiding a rushing, turbulent current below." I've been watching When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, which in anyone else's hands, could've resorted to melodrama, like a 1950's woman's picture, but with Naruse's deft touch, becomes one of the most sympathetic films I've seen. On the surface, Naruse is not a remarkable director, but it's the rhythms of his films, and the blend of melodrama and realism that make him unique. Hideko Takamine plays a bar hostress in Tokyo's Ginza district, who has reached the age of 30, when Japanese women should either be married or become a proprietress of their own business. Takamine's Keiko (or Mama as her clients call her) is one of Naruse's proud, intelligent women, who is not immune to her passions, but refuses to make life easier by prostituting herself. Naruse is famous for stripping all hope from his films, but there's something painfully honest about the way Mama regroups after the disappointments she endures. There's a foreboding that when Mama falls, she'll fall harder than the rest, but she learns to live with herself after compromising her integrity -- an integrity that was her last vesitage of hope from the sorrow that Audie Block called, "wound called life for which there is no salve.” The maturity of this film, which isn't one of Naruse's best or most famous, is astounding. Mama had my complete empathy. She so very human, and the sadness that punctuates her search for happiness is so much more unflinching than the good nature of Ozu or the tragic endings of Mizoguchi. Naruse seemed to be far more attune to the realities of the women he made films about. His films, "affirm the impossibility of escape," as Senses of Cinema writer Alexander Jacoby describes. If the majority of men do lead lives of quiet desperation, then Naruse's films are a testament to that desperation.