Customer Reviews: Life of Oharu [VHS]
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on January 7, 2001
Unlike the well-intentioned best-selling book, "Memoirs of A Geisha," Kenji Mizoguchi's film set in the 1700s, doesn't fool us with a relatively happy ending. Mizoguchi knew from what he saw happen to his mother's and sister's lives the duplicity and hypocrisy of the traditional role of a Japanese women, who had no choice but to serve men and abide by an odious double-standard. Kinuyo Tanaka's performance as the title character has depth, humor and, above all, realistic emotion. "Oharu" is unforgettable. Mizoguchi, as usual, proves why Kurosawa called him "the master." This film is elegant, filled with graceful camera pans that underline the situations in which the characters find themselves. Filmmaking doesn't get purer or truer than this. Worthy of Shakespeare. And hardly over-sentimental.
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on July 16, 2000
Kenji Mizogichi's Saikaku Ichidai Onna, known hereabouts as The Life of Oharu, is a stunning piece of work, and not "cliched" as Leonard Maltin seems to think (is it possible that, having seen too many movies, he can no longer distinguish the good from the bad?). One of Mizoguchi's late, great films.
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on October 13, 2005
The unhurried pace of this film will make it an uncomfortable experiece for some viewers--but very few films offer more in terms of substance than this one. The dramatic structure slowly reveals a stunningly complete vision of both a single life and a stratified society that degrades women and all who strive for individuality and integrity. Mizoguchi's masterpiece is a portrait of a lady and a critique of 17th-c. Japanese culture--although its implications are much broader.

The cinematography features Mizoguchi's trademark long tracking shots, often framing characters in a landscape at a distance, which emphasizes a Buddhist perspective on the relative insignificance of the individual before the infinite transience of the world. Two beautiful examples: 1) as Oharu and her parents are exiled from Kyoto, the camera slowly descends below a bridge as it watches them disappear through a line of huge trees; 2) Oharu's "suicide run" through the forest is filmed in a single shot at a high angle, her body quaking and jerking like a mannequin. Both of these shots are ineffably powerful. This is a haunting picture, with many resonant images, and one that invites the viewer to reflect at length on its structure (mostly a long flashback chronicling a series of false starts and falls), themes (class, the role of women, the corruption of centralized power, etc.), and meaning (the Buddhist element is quite significant...note the final shot).

Life of Oharu (1952) is the first in a series of major masterpieces directed by Mizoguchi at the very end of his life, followed by Ugetsu (1953), Sansho the Bailiff (1954, which I regard as his greatest achievement), and Street of Shame (1956). Few directors have ever matched the artistry, wisdom, or generous humanity of these films.
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VINE VOICEon September 12, 2007
In 1952 Kenji Mizoguchi released Life of Oharu one of his most personal films. The film based on the Ihara novel The Woman Who Loved Love, is also one of the great director's greatest achievements. With its formal style and long tracking shots the film takes some getting used to before being fully appreciated by Western audiences of today. The film takes attention and patience to reveal its intricacies.

Mizoguchi deftly examines the place of women in Japanese society in this film. In fact it was a theme that ran through much of his filmmaking from Osaka Elegy onward. Oharu, beautifully acted by Kinuyo Tanaka, moves in an ever downward spiral for the crime of falling in love with a person below her class. At the opening of the film she is forced to reflect on her life as she stares at statues in a Buddist temple. She began life as a lady in waiting at the Imperial Palace of Kyoto. A youthful indescretion with a court page, Katsunosuke ( Toshiro Mifune) leads to the exile of her entire family. She becomes the concubine of Lord Matsudaira (Toshiaki Konoe) but only for the purpose of bearing him a male heir. After giving birth she is sent away from the palace. She becomes a maid and then as she ages finds short lived hapiness as the wife of a fan maker. His untimely death leads her into a life of prostitution in order to survive.

The story is told with great dignity and never attempts to judge Oharu for her actions. Oharu is simply a part of the society in which she lives.

I viewed this film on the Homevision VHS tape and while not great the picture is adequate. The picture is slightly soft and does not truly do justice to either the material or to the cinematography of Yoshimi Hirano. The English subtitles are burned into the print in white but are quite readable. This is quite rare and welcome on a film of this age.

The film, while somewhat hard to find, is well worth seeking out and is highly recommended.
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on February 11, 2007
"The Life of Oharu," is not only a great film, but it is highly recommended. I am looking forward to seeing this film on DVD someday, but in the meantime my VHS copy will have to do. I am not really surprised that some of the reviewers don't like this film: But I sure do. Kenji Mizoguchi is an acquired taste; and having seen many of his films, I think he was a very talented director. Too many people try to compare his films with Ozu, or Kurosawa, and this is not fair. They each had their own distinctive stamp on filmmaking. All of them were great Japanese directors. Moreover, his films deal with the role of women in Japanese society, and one can see this theme in ALL of his films.

Furthermore, many try to compare this past master with contemporary times, and this is wrong. He had a message for his audience in his time, and this shows in his films: The role of women in Japanese society. And whether or not his films dealt with contemporary Japanese society, or feudal Japan, the message is still the same: The treatment of women in a male dominated society. Many refer to his works as feminist depictions on film, however, I look at his films as cinematic works of art. This film centers on the life of a woman named Oharu (Kinuyo Tanaka). The setting is 17th century Japan. During her younger days she was a lady in waiting at the Imperial Palace. However, she falls in love with a man below her station, and as a result she and her family are expelled from the Palace and forced into exile.

With her life now changed, she finds herself as a concubine. But life will deal even more harsh realities for her as she ages. Eventually she will become a prostitute. Oharu's fall from privelige to destitution and despair is one bleak portrait. And Mizoguchi shows [not tells] the viewer how this womans life has changed by the purely human act of being in love with a man whose only crime was being below her station. And the events in her life will spiral her further and further down into a life of despair. This is not a happy feel-good film. And those who have seen Kenji Mizoguchi's films know that this was not his style. The acting of Kenyuo Tanaka is terrific, and the film is a must have for those who admire great Japanese cinema. I highly recommend this film! [Stars: 4.5]
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on June 27, 2011
Bought a Korean copy that had its problems, but english sub-titles. The film had parts that were too black, too bright and about 2 hours into it 4 minutes repeated as if a film roll was changed.
The movie is about a girl who gets sold over and over again, from a rich family to dirt poor. She survives and the opium pipes are ever present. Takes place at the end of the samuari period when land owners were thought of as royalty. As a collector of Japanese movies, I enjoyed it with all the flaws.
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on January 3, 2013
The Korean dvd release of THE LIFE OF OHARU is seriously flawed, as stated in an earlier review about two hours into the film, it repeats a section of the film. this is inexcusable. it is simply a bootleg copy with no qualitty control
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on February 10, 2013
The original film is excellent, with supurb acting and directing and an engrossing story. The story, however, is incredibly sad and depressing. This DVD version is only mediocre. It was apparently made from a worn print; the images jump a good deal. And the Engish subtitles are a permanent part of the film, they cannot be controlled by the DVD menu. There are also Korean subtitles which can be controlled by the menu, and which appear in yellow superimposed over the English subtitles when turned on. As claimed, the DVD has no region encoding; it plays fine on American DVD players.
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on February 16, 2014
This dvd you sold has only Korean subtitles, about which you didn't notify potential buyers. There doesn't appear to be any way for us to predetermine this.
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on November 25, 2011
I was worried about the subtitles but they functioned perfectly. Not much else to say, this is what it is.
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