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The Life of Oharu
(Saikaku ichidai onna)

Screening on Film
Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi.
With Kinuyo Tanaka, Toshiro Mifune.
Japan, 1952, 35mm, black & white, 136 min.
Japanese with English subtitles.
Print source: Janus Films

Mizoguchi’s personal favorite of all his films, The Life of Oharu is in many ways a summary work, the crystallization of his vision of a woman martyred by social injustice and the Meiji era as a dark cauldron of the repressive, misogynistic and feudalist sprits that linger, atavistically, in his contemporary films. Tanaka reveals incredible range in her depiction of a courtesan’s vertiginous fall from grace, a trajectory whose gleaming sharp edge revealingly eviscerates the seedy underbelly of Meiji social institutions and mores. The expressive camera movement so celebrated in Mizoguchi’s cinema is given a sublime showcase in the film, with almost operatically soaring movements comparable to the films of Ophüls and Murnau. By garnering the International Prize at the Venice Film Festival, The Life of Oharu brought Mizoguchi to international attention, and by coming the year after Rashomon captured the Golden Lion, helped propel Japanese cinema onto the world stage.

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