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The Life of Oharu (Saikaku ichidai onna)

The Life of Oharu (Saikaku ichidai onna) (1952)


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Release Date: Apr 3, 1952 Wide



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Average Rating: 4/5
User Ratings: 1,348

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Movie Info

Life of Oharu features Kinuyo Tanaka in the title role. Oharu is a middle-aged prostitute in 17th century Japan. As she prays before a statue of Buddha, Oharu reviews her past. Her road to degradation began when, as a teenager, she disgraced her family by falling in love with a samurai (Toshiro Mifune). Oharu became the mistress of a prince, who cast her off after she bore his son. She was then sold into prostitution by her father, and thus began a catch-as-catch-can existence alternating


Art House & International, Drama

May 13, 1997

Criterion Collection

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All Critics (15) | Top Critics (2) | Fresh (10) | Rotten (0) | DVD (2)

Oharu can only endure, and the viewer must endure along with her.

July 11, 2013 Full Review Source: Movie Metropolis
Movie Metropolis

It's a devastating journey, and for Mizoguchi, a direct, blunt statement of purpose.

July 11, 2013 Full Review Source: The Dissolve
The Dissolve

Though the film is wrenching like few others, this is only because it is also a masterpiece.

February 3, 2008 Full Review Source: Antagony & Ecstasy
Antagony & Ecstasy

... brilliantly realized without moralizing.

September 11, 2006 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

The spiritually complete Life of Oharu represents the Holy Grail of Japanese cinema.

August 1, 2004 Full Review Source: Slant Magazine
Slant Magazine

A beautiful, harrowing portrayal of female servitude and degradation in seventeenth century Japan.

May 28, 2004 Full Review Source: Movie Gazette

Audience Reviews for The Life of Oharu (Saikaku ichidai onna)

'Life of Oharu' is a stunning feature film, one which could never be matched in todays cinema. Kinuyo Tanaka takes on the daunting task of portraying a tragic, complex and engrossing character. Oharu spans from the ages of 18-50 and Tanaka manages to pull off convincing performances at all these ages. What makes this film so tragic is that Oharu is completely innocent, falling victim to love that is beyond her control. Like all great tragedies we know what is to come, and it is the inability to stop it that drags the audience in. Mizoguchi's beautifully composed a masterpiece here. A great film that has a well rounded set of characters that in any other episodic drama such as this may seem hollow. Mizoguchi handles each important moment in Oharu's life with complete confidence and artistic control. There are also a number of comic scenes that help ease the depression and show that life is not always doom and glume. The film doesn't preach or hammer home its point, it shows what happens and subtly gets its point across. One of the best films I have ever seen and a real treat for any film fan.
June 5, 2006

Super Reviewer

After recently seeing "Sansho the Bailiff" and the spectacular "Ugetsu," I was disappointed with Mizoguchi's "The Life of Oharu." Elegantly made but tedious, it's an overlong, episodic tale of a good-hearted woman who is born into privilege but eventually becomes a common prostitute (alas, not even a successful one). The film's stilted, melodramatic structure just sends her lurching from one living situation to another, while inevitably turning every promising development tragic. What's more, the lead actress doesn't seem pretty enough for the role -- was she really the only woman worthy of bearing a royal child?

The filmmaking is much more impressive than the script.
November 12, 2011
Eric Broome

Super Reviewer

[font=Century Gothic]In "The Life of Oharu," Oharu(Kinuyo Tanaka) is a fifty-year old prostitute of noble birth who once upon a time lived at the Imperial Court. It was there that a lowly young retainer, Katsunosuke(Toshiro Mifune), fell in love with her. At first, Oharu resisted due to societal pressures, but eventually gave in. One day, they were accidentally discovered at an inn by the authorities. For the crime of associating with someone of low birth, Oharu and her parents were banished from Kyoto. Katsunosuke suffered an even worse fate by beheading. His last words were a message to Oharu, advising her to marry for true love.[/font]
[font=Century Gothic][/font]
[font=Century Gothic]Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, "The Life of Oharu" is a quietly devastating portrayal of a deeply hypocritical society. Everybody who condemns Oharu for her past actions is also partially responsible for her downfall. It is strange how money is so important in a society that prizes status so much. And the movie is also a timely reminder of how all of us in this day and age are so close to falling off the ledge that we are living on.[/font]
August 19, 2007
Walter M.

Super Reviewer

Cripes. Can't anything go right for this woman. Here we have the rags to riches to rags to rags to riches to rags to rags story of poor Oharu who just can't catch a break. Great cinema and a very memorable performance from Kinuyo Tanaka.
November 6, 2013
John Ballantine

Super Reviewer

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Foreign Titles

  • La Vie d' Oharu, femme galante (FR)
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