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The Life of Oharu

西鶴一代女 (Saikaku ichidai onna)
Japan 1952. Dir: Kenji Mizoguchi. 136 min. 35mm

35mm PRINT | Considered by Mizoguchi to be his chef d’oeuvre, The Life of Oharu was the film that (belatedly) established the director’s international reputation — the first of a string of mature Mizoguchi masterpieces, including Ugetsu and Sansho the Bailiff, to astonish viewers in the West in the mid 1950s. Mizoguchi diva Kinuyo Tanaka — “giving one of the greatest of screen performances” (Bloomsbury Foreign Film Guide) — stars in the title role as a beautiful court lady gradually reduced by circumstances to prostitution and beggary. The drama, adapted from a picaresque 1686 novel by Ihara Saikaku, unfolds in a painstakingly-recreated 17th-century Kyoto; the film’s exquisite compositions and breathtaking sequence shots display the director’s talents at their very peak. “Should further enhance Mizoguchi’s reputation as the cinema’s greatest-ever director of women, and as one of the most meticulous craftsmen of the period film” (Rod McShane, Time Out).

REVIEWS

★★★★ "No woman in a Japanese film that I have seen is more tragic and unforgettable than Oharu."

Roger Ebert | full review

"The spiritually complete Life of Oharu represents the Holy Grail of Japanese cinema."

Slant | full review