28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on June 27, 2013
'Life of O Haru' is a very characteristic movie for Kenji Mizoguchi with its theme of forbidden love, its criticism of social conventions and its realistic and incisive description of the fate of women, the behavior of males and the effect of being sincere in a society, here a feudal one.
In this feudal society, love (sexual intercourse) between a member of the nobility and a commoner is a transgression of the barrier between the social classes. When it is discovered, like in this movie, it is disastrous for the lover, the girl and her family. A real nightmare begins for the girl O Haru. Her beauty and sincerity are exploited to the bone, by brothel keepers, by those who need a male heir to ensure the continuation of the political and social power of a clan or by males (also a member of her family) in a position of 'strength '.
The choice of the scenes, of which some are extremely painful, and the angles of the shots illustrate masterfully the balance of power in a society run by absolute power (the shogun), a world without feelings and mercy. As always with K. Mizoguchi, his direction of the actors is admirable; not one false note.
This movie is a true masterpiece. A must see.
69 of 78 people found the following review helpful
on April 24, 2013
I don't usually write reviews, but I saw that this had a rating much lower than it should - and on further inspection found that the negative reviews were of the quality of an old imported DVD.
So, to start with: this DVD is being released by the Criterion Collection, who always do an astounding job of presenting films on DVD and Blu-Ray. Please, please, please, do not worry anymore about the quality of the DVD. It will be great.
As for the film itself, it's another heartbreaking but beautiful film by Mizoguchi, and a sort of spiritual sister to his other two masterpieces "Sansho the Bailiff" and "Ugetsu". I don't want to go into a synopsis, so I'll just leave by saying that if you like human dramas presented with a beautiful touch, you'll love this film.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on August 9, 2013
During the 1990's, both my parents took a whirlwind tour throughout the Far East. When they returned, I asked them what they thought of Japan. My dad adored the country...but my mother told me this was her least favorite destination. "Why?" I inquired. My mother responded that Japan was the most patriarchal culture of all the ones she visited...and she certainly deplored any (mis)treatment of women as second class citizens.
The director Kenji Mizoguzhi obviously shared my mom's sentiments...and this theme permeates most of his films. In thinking about the director's life, he was deeply disturbed that due to failing finances, his sister was literally sold to be a geisha...yet she helped him greatly in his early career - sacrificing herself for a male of the family. And he never allowed himself to forget that moral debt.
Now to the film itself. Except for the framing sequence, Oharu starts her adult life as a valuable court attendant for the Imperial Court. Alas, she allows herself to be seduced by a man of lower class and even falls for him. This relationship violates feudal standards so much that it triggers a disturbing future of humiliations, one after another....from being a concubine forced to bear a child for a lord and then discarded, to becoming a high priced courtesan, and (near the end of the film) to becoming an aging street walker begging for clients. One of her unhappy fates is to be rewarded with a glimpse of her son ascending - who is a powerful lord - yet be prevented from meeting him. The hidden subtext of sex is common throughout the series of vignettes...since it is sex that starts the downward spiral. One of the factors that makes the film extraordinary is the exquisite acting of the lead actress Kinuyo Tanaka, who maintains a quiet, resigned dignity of Buddhist acceptance of her painful fates. The essential theme, the contrast between her true self (a good human being) versus her public self (a cheap and immoral human being), is masterfully established. It is important to note that not all indignities are committed by men...often women are equally unjust to her - and in some cases, the men come to her rescue. She even has a brief, happy marriage that is interrupted by tragedy.
The cinematography is absolutely stunning...sometimes with interesting angles from above which allows the viewer to imagine himself or herself as an angel in the sky. So many frames are perfect in terms of composition and lighting - that the whole is breathtaking. And this remains true, even though the movie proceeds at a slow but deliberate pace. When the film ended, I was more profoundly moved by it than by the better known "Sansho the Bailiff" or "Ugetsu". In my book, it deserves to be listed among the top 100 masterpieces of foreign film.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Mizoguchi directed many amazing films. Luckily Criterion has been able to acquire the distribution rights to several of his films. Life of Oharu has previously been widely unavailable except from certain 'ahem' boderline DVD distributors. The previous releases suffered from terrible transfer which looked like a VHS to DVD machine was used.
Gladly Criterion has brought their usual restoration quality to this gem. The picture quality on both the DVD and Blu-Ray is amazing. The Blu-Ray version was the first version I watched (thanks to my local library picking up pretty much every Criterion release).
This version also contains several extras: commentary, Mizoguchi's Art and the Demimonde: an illustrated audio essay, Kinuyo Tanaka's New Departure - a 2009 film by Koko Kajiyama and a booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Gilberto Perez. The extras are not quite as eye popping as the horde of extras with Ugetsu, but I can't really complain.
This film, like many Mizoguchi films, deals with the theme of a 'fallen woman'. Like several previous films, the main female character embarks on a forbidden romance. After said romance comes into the open, bad things happen. But what makes this film so much more is that Oharu continually tries to redeem herself, but her shady past always seems to creep up on her. The viewer understands that Oharu's initial romance, while considered heinous at the time, is not one that is out of place in modern society. The initial, ill-fated romance is obvious to the viewer, and though know it will end in tragedy, we cannot help but be sad for Oharu. We also cannot help but feel compassion for her throughout the film. This human aspect of the film is what draws us in. Mizoguchi was a master at depicting humanity and engendering compassion for even his 'fallen women'.
The film is long, but unlike other reviews, I never felt it was dragging along. Each new chapter in her life is like a new chapter of a novel. The viewer is never shown overly long sections of the film. Once we're getting near complacency, something arises that throws everything into disorder and Oharu starts over again. I don't know about everyone else, but I found this to be a touching film and I would highly recommend it to any fan of Mizoguchi's films or fans of classic Japanese film in general. Just amazing.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2013
Those with knowledge and appreciation of Japanese history and the place in society of Japanese women will be touched by this masterful film. It traces the descent of a high born woman who has just enough courage to resist total submission to the system; an affair with a lower ranking samurai marks her decline; further misadventures and defiance of harsh authority ends with her choice of life as a prostitute. A beautiful and subtle condemnation of the society of those times.
on February 3, 2015
SAIKAKU ICHIDAI ONNA (THE LIFE OF OHARU).
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Rating = ****
Film = four (4) stars; subtitles = 4.5 stars; restoration = five (5) stars. Director Kinji Mizoguchi's gripping depiction of what life probably was like (or pretty close to it) for women who lived in late 17th Century Japan. The photoplay combines traditional tales and historic depictions with the imaginations of its creators. What emerges, at least from the Director's perspective, is a far from pretty picture for all women living at all levels of society. As the title implies, this is essentially a one-character film whose life phases involve all levels of the female cultural food chain. Actress Kinuyo Tanaka delivers a tour de force performance by playing eight interconnected roles representing each life phase. Blank verse is sung to provide voice overs that connect scenes. But sometimes this technique seems to be just the Director trying to drive his point home to audiences who (in his mind) may be too slow witted to follow the drama streams. This approach becomes very stale very fast. The film's music (it's too disjointed to be labeled a "score") is certainly unique, but also, unfortunately, grates on the modern ear and is often annoying. It can become a less-than-welcomed distraction to a scene (in all fairness, it would appear that the composer might have been trying to duplicate what may have been the music from the era the film addresses). Cinematography (narrow screen, black and white) and lighting are a bit on the dark side with scenes often appearing in somewhat fuzzy gray and white vice more sharply-focused black and white. Rather than creating some sort of "visual mood," scenes can be just plain hard to discern. Nearly all above-the-line talent is credited in subtitles during the opening credits! Congratulations to the Criterion Label for a small, but significant contribution to the film's restoration process. This level of subtitling is a very rare occurrence in the restoration of classical and in the release of modern Japanese films on video disc as well as for modern films shown in theaters. In all cases, producers seem to be sending this message to non-native Japanese: a large portion of the movie's cast and crew are not important (which, of course, is nonsense!) and have been ignored in this cheap translation. A movie worth re-watching from time to time (especially if you are deep diving Japan's ancient cultures). WILLIAM FLANIGAN, PhD.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 11, 2013
From the moment she turns on her suitor only to relent you can see that this is a performace worth watching. An informed study of the life of a woman in a certain age is certainly worth watching. Beautifully photographed and engauging this is worth watching.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 30, 2014
This is an interesting movie that explores the women's side of feudal Japanese culture. Women are actual objects to be sold or traded. Even her father offers her no real sympathy. She is a tool to use for his purposes. Every time Oharu seems to find a promise of a better life, that promise is struck down by some disaster or cultural impediment. Oharu falls from nobility. Imagine falling from a lower class. The prospects are poor. The movie is well made and the DVD is high quality. It is worth a watch if you are interested in the culture. No on-screen sword swinging, but there is an off-screen beheading. The violence in this movie makes a point and is not overdone.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 2014
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 23, 2014
a very good story and well filmed and enjoyable to watched - glad was put on blu ray to watch