[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]
“Bars in the daytime are like women without make-up.”
A widowed bar hostess (Hideko Takamine) struggling to survive in post-war Japan must decide whether to remarry or open an establishment of her own.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Character Studies
- Feminism and Women’s Issues
- Japanese Films
- Widows and Widowers
Only two of little-known Japanese director Mikio Naruse’s films (Late Chrysanthemums  and Floating Clouds ) are listed in Peary’s book, but this later Naruse movie remains must-see viewing as well. Widowed Keiko (Takamine) — approaching thirty (!) — is stuck in a dead-end job with little chance to move “up”. While in the midst of seriously considering opening her own bar, she witnesses her “rival” trying the same thing and failing miserably — and, though a married male suitor is willing to loan Keiko money in return for “favors”, Keiko refuses to compromise herself. Having made a vow of lifelong loyalty to her dead husband, she’s remained celibate since his death, and is unable to act upon her desire for romance (or sex) without guilt; when she finally does give in to men’s solicitations (twice), she’s badly burnt both times. Despite its decidedly grim storyline, however, When a Woman… remains eminently watchable, thanks in large part to Takamine’s sensitive portrayal as Keiko: she manages to exude both integrity and vulnerability at once, making us believe she’ll be alright despite the odds against her.
Note: When a Woman… evokes Mizoguchi’s post-war work — particularly A Geisha (1953) and Street of Shame (1955) — but with a decidedly “jazzy” twist, thanks to Toshiro Mayuzumi’s xylophone-heavy score and Satoshi Chuko’s “modern” interiors.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Hideko Takamine as Keiko
- Masayuki Mori as Keiko’s married love interest
- Tatsuya Nakadai as Kenichi Komatsu
- Daisuke Kato as Keiko’s roly-poly suitor
- Masao Tamai’s gorgeous b&w cinematography
- A devastating look at female survival in a patriarchal society
- Toshiro Mayuzumi’s jazzy score
Yes. This unsung masterpiece should definitely be seen by all film fanatics.
- Foreign Gem
- Important Director