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When a Woman Ascends the Stairs might be Japanese filmmaker Mikio Naruse's finest hour-a delicate, devastating study of Keiko (the heartbreaking Takamine Hideko), 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.