Bitter Spirits: Immortal Love (1961)

Sadako Heibei

Any viewer who goes into Keisuke Kinoshita’s 1961 film Immortal Love expecting the grand, sweeping romance suggested by the title is bound to be disappointed. The original Japanese title, Eien no hito (永遠の人), can be translated as “forever one,” which is a bit closer to the mark, as the focus is on a marriage — if something so ugly and venomous can truly be regarded as a marriage. Perhaps the other English name given to the film is the most appropriate of all: Bitter Spirit.

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A Woman on Her Own: When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960)

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“Who’d ever want to work in a bar? Drinking ’til I’m sick, being a plaything for men. I haven’t enjoyed a single day since I started.”

Mikio Naruse’s 1960 film When a Woman Ascends the Stairs depicts several months in the life of Keiko Yashiro (Hideko Takamine), a hostess in Tokyo’s Ginza district. Night after night, she climbs a steep staircase and enters the bar at the top, where it’s her job to flirt with the customers, encourage them to buy drinks and keep them coming back for more. Although it’s not full-fledged prostitution, many of the hostesses do have patrons, wealthy men who pay for their rent and other expenses in exchange for sex. Keiko — or “Mama,” as she’s known to her co-workers — is an exception, even after five long and difficult years in the profession. “A woman shouldn’t be loose. That’s one rule I’ve followed,” she tells a younger hostess named Junko (Reiko Dan). “I’m not a prude, but if I let go once, it’d be too hard to stop.”

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