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The Life of Oharu

original Japanese movie poster made by Shintōhō
Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
Produced by Hideo Koi
Kenji Mizoguchi
Isamu Yoshiji (executive producer)
Shintōhō
Koi Productions
Written by Saikaku Ihara (novel)
Kenji Mizoguchi
Yoshikata Yoda
Starring Kinuyo Tanaka
Tsukie Matsuura
Ichirô Sugai
Toshirô Mifune
Takashi Shimura
Music by Ichirō Saitō
Cinematography Yoshimi Hirano
Yoshimi Kono
Editing by Toshio Goto
Distributed by Shintōhō
Release date(s) April 3, 1952 (Japan)[1]
Running time 148 min.
Country Japan
Language Japanese

The Life of Oharu (西鶴一代女 Saikaku Ichidai Onna ?) is a 1952 historical fiction black and white film by director Kenji Mizoguchi starring Kinuyo Tanaka as Oharu, a one-time concubine of a daimyō (and mother of a later daimyō) who struggles to escape the stigma of having been sold into prostitution by her father. Based on a novel by Ihara Saikaku, the film constitutes an excellent example of the long take aesthetic, which Mizoguchi employed extensively throughout his career.

Starring Kinuyo Tanaka (in what is perhaps her most famous role) as Oharu, the film tells a poignant story that uses the experiences of a struggling geisha to examine the issues of class and rigid hierarchy in Japanese society in Edo period.

A sceene from the movie showing palace of daimyō in Edo period.

Contents

Background

The Life of Oharu is based on various stories from Ihara Saikaku’s The Life of an Amorous Woman. It was produced by the Shintōhō Company, with cinematography by Yoshimi Hirano and screenplay by Yoshikata Yoda.

It has been claimed that this movie was one of Kenji Mizoguchi’s favorite projects, even though it was under financed. Other crew members include: production designer Hiroshi Mizutani and historical consultant Isamu Yoshi.

Awards

The Life of Oharu won the International Prize at the 1952 Venice International Film Festival and was nominated to Golden Lion. The film (include 1952 films Himitsu, Inazuma and Okaasan) won 1953 Mainichi Film Concours for best film score (Ichirō Saitō).[2]

Plot

Toshirō Mifune as page Katsunosuke, who courted Oharu.

The story opens on Oharu as an old woman in a temple flashing back through the events of her life. It begins with her love affair with a page, the result of which (due to their class difference) is his execution and her family’s banishment. Oharu attempts suicide but fails and is sold to be the mistress of Lord Matsudaira with the hope she will bear him a son. She does, but then is sent home with minimal compensation to the dismay of her father, who has worked up quite a debt in the meantime. He sends her to be a courtesan, but there, too, she fails and is again sent home. She goes to serve the family of a woman who must hide the fact that she is bald from her husband. The woman becomes jealous of Oharu and makes her chop off her hair, but Oharu retaliates, revealing the woman’s secret. She again must leave—this time she marries a fan maker who is killed shortly after during a robbery. She attempts to become a nun, but is thrown out for seducing a man seeking reimbursement for fabric that she took. She is thrown out of the temple, becomes a prostitute, but fails even at that. In the end, she is recalled to the Lord’s house in order to keep secret her activities and to be exiled within the compounds to keep her secrets locked away. While being scolded for the life she chose, she attempts to find her son, and in the process, ends up running away as she chooses the life of a beggar over the life in exile.

Gender Issues

Kinuyo Tanaka as Oharu, the mistress of Lord Matsudaira
Kinuyo Tanaka as Oharu, the old poor woman

Oharu faces some major conflicts of interest as her role as a woman in society changes with each stage she enters. During the course of her entire life, she is seen as having little autonomy, from being chosen for her perfect face and perfect body by the Lord Matsudaira’s servant to being forced into prostitution as everything else fails. Furthermore, her role in the society is greatly strained as she was originally cast aside during her initial love affair.

Director

The director of The Life of Oharu, Kenji Mizoguchi, is considered one of the masters of what is often called the 'Golden Age of Japanese cinema'. Mizoguchi’s films were influenced heavily by his childhood. Events such as the loss of his sister and mother through sale to a geisha house and death, respectively, as well as his father’s inability to take care of his family played a major role in deciding what kind of films Mizoguchi would come to direct. Common themes in Mizoguchi’s films are sudden changes in class, oppressive male figures of authority, and the woman protagonist who sacrifices everything only to have her life ruined. Mizoguchi experienced all of these at some level as he grew up in Tokyo. These themes are most prevalent in his films: Osaka Elegy, The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums, The Life of Oharu, Sansho the Bailiff, and Ugetsu. Films such as these helped establish Mizoguchi's reputation as a feminist director.

Cast and main characters

Oharu and fictional daimyo Lord Harutaka Matsudaira (Toshiaki Konoe).
Hisako Yamane as Lady Matsudaira.
  • Kinuyo Tanaka as Oharu - The protagonist whose bad luck and misfortune lead to various struggles in life.
  • Tsukie Matsuura as Tomo, Oharu’s Mother - A kind character in the film; her mother tended to side with Oharu and did not wish to see her become a courtesan.
  • Ichirō Sugai as Shinzaemon, Oharu’s Father - Oharu’s father was consumed by both money and social status. His misjudgments about Oharu caused much of her downfall.
  • Toshirō Mifune as Katsunosuke - A page who courted Oharu and they fell into a forbidden love. He is beheaded once their relationship is discovered.
  • Toshiaki Konoe as Lord Harutaka Matsudaira - He takes Oharu as a mistress in order to bear a child heir. Unfortunately for Oharu, he falls in love with Oharu and his wife’s jealousy causes her dismissal.
  • Hisako Yamane as Lady Matsudaira - The wife of Harutaka Matsudaira who, because of her jealousy of her husband’s love for Oharu, banishes her.
  • Jukichi Uno as Yakichi Ogiya - He was a respected fan maker who married Oharu, however, he is tragically murdered shortly into their marriage.
  • Kiyoko Tsuji as Landlady.
  • Eitarō Shindō as Kahe Sasaya.
  • Akira Oizumi as Fumikichi, Sasaya's friend.
  • Kyôko Kusajima as Sodegaki.
  • Masao Shimizu as Kikuoji
  • Daisuke Katō as Tasaburo Hishiya
  • Toranosuke Ogawa as Yoshioka
  • Hiroshi Oizumi as manager Bunkichi
  • Haruyo Ichikawa as Lady-in-waiting Iwabashi
  • Yuriko Hamada as Otsubone Yoshioka
  • Noriko Sengoku as Lady-in-waiting Sakurai
  • Sadako Sawamura as Owasa
  • Masao Mishima as Taisaburo Hishiya
  • Eijirō Yanagi as forger
  • Chieko Higashiyama as Myokai, the old nun
  • Takashi Shimura as old man.
  • Benkei Shiganoya as Jihei.

See also

References

External links

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