The Life of Oharu (Saikaku ichidai onna)


The Life of Oharu (Saikaku ichidai onna)

Critics Consensus

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Total Count: 13


Audience Score

User Ratings: 1,450
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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 between brief happiness with those she genuinely loved and servitude to those she despised. A potential happy ending, reuniting her with her royal son, is dashed by the much-maligned Oharu herself, who opts for the life of a beggar. Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, a lifelong advocate of equitable treatment for Japanese women, Life of Oharu was adapted from a novel by Saikaku Ibara.


Toshiro Mifune
as Katsunosuke
Ichiro Sugai
as Shonzaemon, Oharu's Father
Yuriko Hamada
as Otsubone Yoshioka
Eitaro Shindo
as Kohei Sasaya
Daisuke Katô
as Tasaburo Hishiya
Kikue Mori
as Myokai, the Old Nun
Jukichi Uno
as Yakichi Senya
Masao Mishima
as Taisaburo Hishiya
Akira Oizumi
as Fumikichi, Sasaya's Friend
Toranosuke Ogawa
as Yataemon Isobei
Masao Shimizu
as Kikuno Koji
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Critic Reviews for The Life of Oharu (Saikaku ichidai onna)

All Critics (13) | Top Critics (2)

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

  • Oct 14, 2017
    As this film opens, Oharu (Kinuyo Tanaka), a 50 year old prostitute, goes into a Buddhist temple and looks back at her life. We see that she was once loved, but because her young suitor (the great Toshiro Mifune) was of a lower caste, it was forbidden, resulting in her being banished and him being beheaded. As her family has been shamed, her father jumps on the chance to send her to a local Lord who is looking for a mistress who can be a surrogate mother. Unfortunately, she's abruptly dismissed after bearing him a son, and from there she steadily declines. The film was highly personal to director Kenji Mizoguchi since his own sister (who had raised him) was sold by their father to be a geisha, which is one of the things that happens to Oharu. Like 'Ugetsu', the film Mizoguchi made the following year, 'The Life of Oharu' is a morality tale, and while it's less heavy-handed than 'Ugetsu', it is fairly melodramatic. The central message is one of Buddhist compassion, and not just for those who we know have had a sad, unfair life - but also those who appear derelict or decrepit to us, and who we might otherwise judge, not knowing what they've experienced. While there is depth to that message, and it's certainly nice seeing a film that empathizes with woman and the misogyny they endure, 'The Life of Oharu' is dark and hard to watch for 148 minutes. The plot is quite linear and we see her used and abused in every single societal role she plays: daughter, lover, concubine, courtesan, wife, nun, and common prostitute. I also don't think Tanaka was well utilized in this role - she simply doesn't look young enough in early scenes, or old enough in later scenes. The filmmaking is good and the film has a solid place in film history for its message, but it's too bleak, and too simplistically so, for a film of this length.
    Antonius B Super Reviewer
  • Jul 18, 2013
    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.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Aug 18, 2011
    This distressing tale of female degradation did not only appeal to feudal times, but to any era of human history. Women have not been surrounded only by a men-driven, neoliberal architecture, but also by lack of respect and admiration. Perhaps the movie may be over-developed and unnecessarily prolonged for foreign audiences, but that's precisely the point: Oharu's life covers pretty much the Japan of the 17th Century from the racism of social stratums to religion, from poverty to people manipulation. 99/100
    Edgar C Super Reviewer
  • Mar 24, 2011
    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.
    Eric B Super Reviewer

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