Welcome to Akira Kurosawa info!  Log in or Register?

Double Bill: When a Woman vs The Bad Sleep Well

  •   link

    Ugetsu

    I must admit to being fascinated by the fact (as stated in the Criterion notes) that Naruse’s When a Woman Ascends the Stairs and Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well were often shown as a double bill in Japanese cinemas. The reason, apparently, was that it was common to show a ‘womans’ film with a ‘mans’ film to attract couples. I can’t help wondering what the reaction was, and whether in fact women preferred Naruse and men preferred Kurosawa, whether the men would go out for a drink when the ‘womans’ film was on and so forth. I would have thought plenty of men would have loved to stay just to stare at Takamine’s beauty, just as plenty of women were enraptured by Mifune.

    Its hard to imagine two films with such a contrast in style. Naruse’s films of course were steady and still (despite his fondness for rapid cutting), while Kurosawas films were of course always dynamic and flowing. Naruse focused on character and drama, while Kurosawa (especially at this stage of his film making) was far more interested in ideas, plot and narrative. I think most of us have already agreed that the lack of interesting characters is one of the key weaknesses of The Bad Sleep Well – while I think When a Woman Ascends the Stairs is full of quite fascinating and fully realised characters, even some of the more minor players, such Daisuke Kato’s lovely performance as a Walter Mitty type.

    So, what do you think? Do you think your view of one or other of the films would have altered if you’d seen both as a double bill? Would the contrast have been too great, or would it have depended on which film was first?

      link

    Vili Maunula

    That’s really interesting! I didn’t know that we weren’t the first to pair the two. They would indeed make an odd couple for a single evening’s entertainment.

    Or would they? In the end, both feature characters quite unable to make a difference. And although you are right that Kurosawa’s film is more idea based, the two films share a similar character driven narrative style.

    But even with these similarities, the two indeed are very different.

    Would my view of either film have been influenced by the other? I think so, although it would indeed also depend on what order they were shown. But I think that at least the weaknesses with the performances in The Bad Sleep Well would really stand out when compared to the brilliant acting in When a Woman Ascends the Stairs. Meanwhile, the visually striking moments of cinematic beauty in Kurosawa might be enhanced, especially if viewed after Naruse, who doesn’t really allow us any of that with his more show-as-it-is type of film making.

    It’s must have been an interesting pair.

      link

    lawless

    Ahaha, I almost answered this one before watching When A Woman Ascends the Stairs. It turns out that my kneejerk response would have been accurate anyway.

    Thrillers are catnip to me. Dramatic tension is catnip to me. The Bad Sleep Well has that in spades. When A Woman Ascends the Stairs does not. So despite labeling The Bad Sleep Well as a men’s movie (I guess because of its subject matter as well as because its primary character, and thus its POV character, is male) and When A Woman Ascends the Stairs as women’s movie because its primary and POV character is a woman and because it of necessity overtly explores gender roles in ways The Bad Sleep Well does not, this woman would rather watch The Bad Sleep Well. It may be a more flawed in the sense of not realizing everything I think Kurosawa was trying to achieve when he made it, whereas I sense When A Woman Ascends the Stairs achieves everything Naruse wanted it to, but on the level of enjoyment, which is what really matters when it comes to individual judgments about films (or at least what I think should matter — something I think Kurosawa would agree with), The Bad Sleep Well is the hands down winner for me.

    As for the order of showing the films, I don’t think it would matter to my assessment of the movies; however, I might find my attention wandering more if I saw When A Woman Ascends the Stairs first, especially when followed by the opening of The Bad Sleep Well, which doesn’t do much to explain what’s going on. That becomes a virtue later when we start finding out what’s going on, but it makes the beginning of the movie somewhat confusing. I don’t like feeling confused. But I doubt it was shown in that order; I would expect the “men’s” movie to be shown first.

    Also, I think When A Woman Ascends the Stairs would appeal as much to men as to women because of the semi-salacious nature of its subject matter (as in “will she or won’t she?”), concentration on one woman’s POV, thus making it a personal journey as opposed to a critique of an institution that benefits men and disadvantages women like Street of Shame, and its lack of judgment about the men who frequent the bars. When A Woman Ascends the Stairs observes the way things are and doesn’t try to challenge the status quo. (That may be part, although it’s not the whole, of why I like Street of Shame better.) What’s not for those who benefit most from the way things are to like about that?

    Also, I don’t agree that the characters in When A Woman Ascends the Stairs are notably more complex or deeper than those in The Bad Sleep Well. It might seem that way because When A Woman Ascends the Stairs, which is essentially a slice of life movie, hinges on refraining from taking a stand on its characters’ morality whereas The Bad Sleep Well, which is essentially a morality play, is all about judging its characters’ morality. (That makes me wonder if thrillers aren’t morality plays at heart.) But to my mind, men who lie and make false promises of marriage to get into a woman’s pants, or who profess love but won’t leave their wives, or want someone but won’t admit it if they work with her, or assume she’ll intuit it, and women who use sex to get ahead are as much dime-a-dozen archetypes as anyone in The Bad Sleep Well with the exception of Shirai, who I agree is flat and two-dimensional, but who really only exists to react to Nishi.

    Instead of putting his characterization on film, however, in many cases Kurosawa only hints at it. (Examples: how did Nishi become friends with Itakura and Tatsuo, and how did they interact?) I think this creates the sense Vili‘s mentioned before, most notably with respect to Seven Samurai, that like icebergs, some or most of the narrative in Kurosawa’s movies is hidden underwater. (Vili, correct me if I’ve misstated your views.)

    While I don’t think Seven Samurai is a particularly good example of this phenomenon — I think it’s one of Kurosawa’s most transparent narratives, with only the implied but clear backstory about the fate of Rikichi’s wife and Manzo’s complicity in that and other atrocities being “underwater” — I agree that it’s a technique Kurosawa uses frequently. This use of subtext is a known way to provide narrative depth in fiction writing; I think it serves the same function in film, although possibly to less universal effect.

      link

    Vili Maunula

    lawless: I think this creates the sense Vili’s mentioned before, most notably with respect to Seven Samurai, that like icebergs, some or most of the narrative in Kurosawa’s movies is hidden underwater. (Vili, correct me if I’ve misstated your views.)

    This is indeed the basis of a long and — I am convinced — wonderful essay on Seven Samurai (and other Kurosawa films) that I have been thinking about for a number of years now. But alas, it remains unwritten, just like the brilliant shot-by-shot treatment of The Hidden Fortress that I wanted to do to investigate its theatricality, but then life happened and I haven’t found the time.

    It’s a good question whether the characters in When a Woman Ascends the Stairs are more complex that those of The Bad Sleep Well. To me they certainly seem so, but perhaps it is an illusion created by the more lifelike nature of the film, when compared to the theatricality (which I’m sure was intended) of Kurosawa’s film.

      link

    Ugetsu

    Vili

    It’s a good question whether the characters in When a Woman Ascends the Stairs are more complex that those of The Bad Sleep Well. To me they certainly seem so, but perhaps it is an illusion created by the more lifelike nature of the film, when compared to the theatricality (which I’m sure was intended) of Kurosawa’s film.

    I would have thought it was really an unfair comparison – the nature of a thriller is such that narrative drive takes precedence over character development. There are exceptions – The Godfather perhaps has characters which can match any character driven drama for depth and quality, but they are rare. I certainly find myself thinking more about the characters in When a Woman Ascends than The Bad Sleep Well, but then again, I’ve watched it more recently. But I would say that I find the characters in The Bad Sleep Well generally less interesting than in similar Kurosawa films such as High and Low or Stray Dog. But I think it is a highly subjective thing. But in general I would say that I find the characters in all the Naruse films I’ve seen to be very memorable – I haven’t watched Floating Clouds or Sound of the Mountain in a year at least, but I find Setsuko Hara’s character in both has lodged in my memory.

      link

    Vili Maunula

    Ugetsu: I haven’t watched Floating Clouds or Sound of the Mountain in a year at least, but I find Setsuko Hara’s character in both has lodged in my memory.

    I don’t think that Hara actually appears in Floating Clouds. It has Hideko Takamine and Masayuki Mori, just like When a Woman Ascends the Stairs. I know this because I watched the film the day before yesterday. 🙂

    It is still a memorable film!

      link

    Ugetsu

    Vili

    I don’t think that Hara actually appears in Floating Clouds. It has Hideko Takamine and Masayuki Mori, just like When a Woman Ascends the Stairs./blockquote>

    Quite right! I was getting my films mixed up, the one I was thinking of is Meshi (Repast).

      link

    Ugetsu

    Sorry for straying ‘quotes’ there, not quite sure what happened.

Viewing 8 posts - 1 through 8 (of 8 total)



Leave a comment

Log in or Register to post a comment!