The Life of Oharu
(Saikaku ichidai onna)
Kinuyo Tanaka, Toshiro Mifune, Ichiro Sugai, Hisako Yamane,
Mizoguchi considered The Life of Oharu his masterpiece, and critics have placed it among the greatest films of all time. Based on a seventeenth-century novel by Saikaku, The Woman Who Loved Love, it chronicles the decline of a beautiful court lady who is exiled, along with her family, for loving a page. Sold by her father as a courtesan, she is gradually stripped of social respectability until she is reduced to prostitution and beggary. Mizoguchi was said to have aestheticized women’s suffering (his heroines lack the disillusionment of Naruse’s, the serenity of Ozu’s). The same cannot be said for the great actress Kinuyo Tanaka, Mizoguchi’s muse, however. Through all of Oharu’s degradations and transformations, Tanaka is the wick in the candle, keeping an epic tale of a woman being punished for her sexuality—right up until the last “incident in my lost life”—painfully on topic.