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811 Ratings

The Life of Oharu

西鶴一代女 | Saikaku ichidai onna

Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
Japan, 1952


This epic portrait of an inexorable fall from grace, starring the incredibly talented Kinuyo Tanaka as an imperial lady-in-waiting who gradually descends to street prostitution, was the movie that gained director Kenji Mizoguchi international attention, ushering in a new golden period for him.

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The Life of Oharu Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
The movie is decidedly episodic, a relentless chronicle of miseries that suffers here and there from its ruthlessly telescoped form. (Oharu’s reversals of fortune come so fast and furious that she can barely begin a conversation with a man before he’s revealed to be a thief, a rapist, a swindler, or just another entitled representative of the patriarchy.) But judging OHARU by its narrative beats alone provides an incomplete picture—the deep focus staging pulls most of the emotional weight.
January 27, 2017
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Close-ups are rare, yet every shot feels startlingly intimate, in part because Mizoguchi never gives the impression that the actors are performing for an audience; one thing that immediately sets his work apart from that of his contemporaries—and makes Oharu seem strikingly modern—is the sheer amount of time characters spend out of frame or with their backs to the camera. Viewers are left with the feeling that they are observing events instead of having something played for them.
July 10, 2013
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Mizoguchi may wisely never romanticizes these characters, rarely ever offering hope, let alone redemption, yet there’s a palpable grace in every camera movement, a tangible respect in every composition. Persecuted yet steadfast, Oharu may most purely embody the Mizoguchi protagonist.
July 10, 2013
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