To the National Film Theatre on the South Bank last night with Miki and Ruth Eisenhart to see Mikio Naruse’s 1960 classic When a Woman Ascends the Stairs. Miki reported she found this melancholy tale “encouraging” for women; I think I found it encouraging for people. The obvious reading is of the oppression of women, and their resistance to it. But it’s worth remembering that Japanese men surveyed last decade, asked what reincarnation they would choose, picked (1) a butterfly and (2) a woman. (Perhaps more of them should see this film.) I prefer a more Buddhist reading. The suffering in pessimistic Naruse’s story emerges from the difference between how the characters like to think of themselves and who they are willing to be. From the BFI’s program notes: “…the preference for enlightened stoicism over glib redemption is pure Naruse.”
We also enjoyed the milieu. I was a boy in the 60s. I grew up knowing this was how adults dressed. Odd dissonance now seeing the vanished adults – and they’re y-younger than me! And for Miki this was the decade before her birth. Thomas Hardy set all his novels in the decade before his birth; someone has probably studied the relationship of artists to this period in – no, before – their lives.
Anyway, 60s nightlife. Men in suits, women in beehives; cool jazz and cocktails. We were inspired. The NFT has expanded from the dark film-buff den below Waterloo Bridge that I belonged to in the 70s, and now boasts space, light, air and a smart bar with smart food and prices. And smart Negronis and the best Pimms N°1 Cup Miki’s tasted. Back to Ruth’s for tea and The World of Nat King Cole documentary – the project Carole had been working on, one supposes.