The Life of Oharu Screen 13 articles

The Life of Oharu

1952

The Life of Oharu Poster
  • To understand the full meaning of a Mizoguchi film is to understand the art of direction as a manner of looking at the world rather than as a means of changing it. There is not much that even the greatest director can do with a face or a tree or a sunset beyond determining his personal angle and distance, rhythm and duration. With Mizoguchi's first tracking of Oharu weaving and bobbing across a licentious world to a religious temple, we are in the presence of an awesome parable of womankind.

  • Quite apart from the visual rendering of Oharu’s condition and fate –- a “statement” that is made no less contemporary by the beauty and density of its period detail –- one must also consider Ichiro Saito’s prodigious musical score. . . . Oharu’s soundtrack achieves a rare diversity of effect that never deviates from the film’s sustained emotional and narrative rigor.

  • The film is Japan at its most familiarly stylized. A quiet spectacle, shot through with bunraku and other quasi-ritual performances, the film builds inexorably through Mizoguchi's sweeping tracking shots to a transcendent ending, the luckless heroine reduced to penury—or rather sainthood—holding her begging bowl and chanting sutras at a Buddhist shrine as celestial music summons the end credits.

  • Oharu (1952) is a tragedy with few peers in or out of the cinema; it's 137 minutes of almost unrelieved grimness, made unsettlingly real by the director's ravishing pictorialism and above all by the performance of Kinuyo Tanaka.

  • No film rivals OHARU's exquisite sense of composition, and the implacability of its chronicle of the downfall of a woman.

  • Kenji Mizoguchi, considered to be one of the most compassionate directors of women, paints a caustic and harsh existence of a male dominated society in Life of Oharu. In contrast to the hopeful, life-affirming conclusions of Ugetsu and Sansho Dayu, the tone of Life of Oharu is bleak and unforgiving. Visually, Mizoguchi uses thematic cycles to envelop the film with a sense of perpetual despair.

  • No male director understood and revered women like Mizoguchi did, and with Life of Oharu he likens womanhood to a perpetual state of spiritual unrest. By film's end, you weep for Oharu because you hope that in death she will be able to find what she was looking for in life.

  • As Oharu runs grief-stricken through the underbrush when she hears of her lover’s death, Mizoguchi’s relentless tracking shot, one of many, exalts her desperate, doomed flight from cruel authority. . . . 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.

  • A work of mature mastery, sorrowful and self-possessed, The Life of Oharu (1952) introduced an international audience to the art of Kenji Mizoguchi. It is an art both attached to tradition and radically original. . . . Mizoguchi’s skill at cutting is seldom noted; here each cut punctuates Oharu’s feeling of being put back in her place, at an insuperable distance from the looming, ruling shadows.

  • As these small stories accumulate, so does the scope of Mizoguchi’s vision and the magnitude of Oharu’s terrible struggle. Viewers come to fully understand how Oharu arrived at that low place at the beginning of the film, and how little she did to get there. Her destiny was not her own.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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