Based on Saikaku Ihara's novel, The Life Of Oharu charts the tragic demise of Oharu (Kinuyo Tanaka) in 17th century Japan. An attendant at the imperial court in Kyoto, she is exiled to the countryside with her parents for the crime of falling in love with Katsunosuke (Toshirô Mifune), who suggests she should marry out of romantic feelings, not duty. Forced by her father into being a concubine for Lord Matsudaira (Toshiaki Konoe), she bears him a son, is then sold to brothel, before finally ending up as a street prostitute.
Along with Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon, Kenji Mizoguchi's The Life Of Oharu was one of the first Japanese films that Western critics and audiences 'discovered' after World War Two. It won the Silver Lion prize at the Venice festival in 1952, giving Mizoguchi a belated international reputation just a few years before his own death.
"HOW WOMEN ARE EXPLOITED AND ABUSED"
A period drama that functions as a rigorous critique of feudal Japan's social, political and religious hypocrisy, the film's sympathies are inherently feminist in that Oharu's story demonstrates how women are exploited, traded and abused in a male-dominated society. See, for example, a line of women being inspected by the lord's retainer, or the way Oharu is informed that she's been "bought like a fish on a chopping board".
Mizoguchi contrasts the film's polemical content with a serene visual style, marked by long takes, winding travelling shots, and an absence of cuts and close-ups on faces. Images such as the side-by-side graves shown after Oharu kisses Katsunosuke foreshadow the cruel workings of fate. Both formally beautiful and unsentimentally compassionate, The Life Of Oharu deserves to be seen and appreciated on the big screen.
In Japanese with English subtitles.