'The Life of Oharu' is played out as a string of vignettes, one tragedy after another. The peerless Kinuyo Tanaka is magnificent as a woman beaten down and reduced to nothing by the very society that bore her misfortunes. Japanese film makers often draw inspiration from their rich and storied past, but few have observed so astutely the downfall of a system stifled by its own pride, honor and readiness to dehumanize.
Our actions, choices and experiences shape who we are. Oharu's downward spiral is never shown as excessively sympathetic, we are shown how decisions bring consequences and thus change ones character. In this case, the era is very unforgiving to Oharu & women in general, Oharu wonders like an empty vessel searching for happiness & love but cannot escape her past actions. Epic yet lyrical and poetic.
Life for Mizoguchi's women is a seemingly inexhaustible source of pain, and it is this pain that drives Oharu--played by the inimitable Kinuyo Tanaka--into complete and utter despair but ultimately towards an acute and transcendent(?) awareness that there is nothing on this earth that can provide any lasting state of happiness.
Simultaneously, an apogee of the narrative classic system, with centralized figures in the frame and a camera that fits/frames them while perspectives a becoming constantly reshaped and accentuated - the best travellings ever made are from Mizoguchi -, being also a reading of women's role in a feudal society that even today, in our frustrated contemporary, remains regrettably acutely, of an over-romantic dimension.
There was a big difference in my emotional response to "Sansho" and "Ugetsu" compared to Oharu. In the first two, I became 100 percent invested in the characters and their specific circumstances. The impact in this one was thematic, when I thought about how cruel the action of "ownership" can become, specifically of the lives of women at this time.