The Life of Oharu (Saikaku ichidai onna)

1952

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

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Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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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.

Cast

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 (1)

Mizoguchi's limpid heartbreaker is also a fierce denunciation of the subjugation of women, the power of wealth, and Japan's unjust though splendid traditions.

Apr 8, 2016 | Full Review…

The Life of Oharu is a quiet and stately picture, but no less a passionate, searing critique of society's treatment of women

May 3, 2017 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

What really elevates Mizoguchi's work above other films of this type ... is his abstraction of the problem, looking beyond individuals at a set of behaviours and ideals that have no clear progenitor.

Apr 27, 2017 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

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

Jul 11, 2013 | Rating: 8/10 | Full Review…

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

Jul 11, 2013 | Rating: 4.5/5 | Full Review…

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

Feb 3, 2008 | Rating: 9/10 | Full Review…

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

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 Ballantine
John Ballantine

Super Reviewer

½

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 Broome
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]

Walter M.
Walter M.

Super Reviewer

'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.

Luke Baldock
Luke Baldock

Super Reviewer

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