The Life of Oharu

Saikaku ichidai onna

dir. Kenji Mizoguchi

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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A seventeenth-century noblewoman (Kinuyo Tanaka) is reduced to penury and prostitution in this tragic masterpiece by Kenji Mizoguchi.
Mizoguchi considered The Life of Oharu to be his masterpiece, and many critics agree: "Mizoguchi's greatest film after [Crucified Lovers] . . . perhaps the finest film made in any country about the oppression of women" (Joan Mellen). (Godard has said that he has seen it over a dozen times, and its influence is certainly apparent in such films as Vivre sa vie and 2 or 3 Things I Know about Her.) Kinuyo Tanaka, whose career was synonymous with Mizoguchi's for many years, scales transcendent heights as Oharu, an imperious Kyoto court lady of the Edo period. When she is sold to a feudal lord, she is subjected to a series of humiliations, ending up as a broken old streetwalker. No film rivals Oharu's exquisite sense of composition and the tragic implacability it brings to its chronicle of Oharu's downfall. "One of the ten greatest films in the history of cinema" (Derek Malcolm).