Kenji Mizoguchi

The Life of Oharu

The Life of Oharu

A peerless chronicler of the soul who specialized in supremely emotional, visually exquisite films about the circumstances of women in Japanese society, Kenji Mizoguchi had already been directing movies for decades when he made The Life of Oharu in 1952. But this epic portrait of an inexorable fall from grace, starring the astounding Kinuyo Tanaka as an imperial lady-in-waiting who gradually descends to street prostitution, was the movie that gained the director international attention, ushering in a new golden period for him.

Film Info

  • Kenji Mizoguchi
  • Japan
  • 1952
  • 136 minutes
  • Black & White
  • 1.37:1
  • Japanese
  • Spine #664

Special Features

  • New, restored high-definition digital film transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
  • New audio commentary for the opening of the movie by film scholar Dudley Andrew
  • Mizoguchi’s Art and the Demimonde, an illustrated audio essay featuring Andrew
  • The Travels of Kinuyo Tanaka, a 2009 film by Koko Kajiyama documenting the actor’s 1949 goodwill tour of the United States
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Gilberto Perez

Purchase Options

Special Features

  • New, restored high-definition digital film transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
  • New audio commentary for the opening of the movie by film scholar Dudley Andrew
  • Mizoguchi’s Art and the Demimonde, an illustrated audio essay featuring Andrew
  • The Travels of Kinuyo Tanaka, a 2009 film by Koko Kajiyama documenting the actor’s 1949 goodwill tour of the United States
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Gilberto Perez
The Life of Oharu
Cast
Kinuyo Tanaka
Oharu
Toshiro Mifune
Katsunosuke
Masao Shimizu
Kikunokoji
Tsukie Matsuura
Tomo, Oharu’s mother
Ichiro Sugai
Shinzaemon, Oharu’s father
Toshiaki Konoe
Lord Matsudaira
Hisako Yamane
Lady Matsudaira
Daisuke Kato
Tasaburo Hishiya
Yuriko Hamada
Otsubone Yoshioka
Komako Hara
Ostubone Kuzui
Kikue Mouri
Old nun Myokai
Haruyo Ichikawa
Lady-in-waiting Iwabashi
Kyoko Kusajima
Lady-in-waiting Sodegaki
Eitarô Shindô
Kahei Sasaya
Sadako Sawamura
Owasa, Sasaya’s wife
Akira Ooizumi
Bunkichi, Sasaya’s employee
Eijiro Yanagi
Counterfeiter
Jukichi Uno
Yakichi Ogiya, Oharu’s husband
Credits
Director
Kenji Mizoguchi
Producer
Hideo Koi
Screenplay
Yoshikata Yoda
Based on the novel by
Saikaku Ihara
Story editor
Kenji Mizoguchi
Cinematography
Yoshimi Hirano
Production design
Hiroshi Mizutani
Edited by
Toshio Goto
Music
Ichiro Saito
Artistic and historical adviser
Isamu Yoshii

From The Current

Kinuyo Tanaka in Hollywood
Kinuyo Tanaka in Hollywood

Today, we mostly know the great Japanese star Kinuyo Tanaka for her ability to disappear into roles in such films as The Life of Oharu, Ugetsu, and The Ballad of Narayama. But in the late 1940s, she was a personality offscreen as well, serving as Ja…

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The Life of Oharu: Not Reconciled
The Life of Oharu: Not Reconciled

With its marvelous, distinctive camera work, Kenji Mizoguchi’s searing drama is as technically remarkable as it is humane.

By Gilberto Perez

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Ari Aster’s Top 10

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Mizoguchi in Chicago

Repertory Picks

Mizoguchi in Chicago

This Saturday, as part of its monthlong series celebrating the career of legendary Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune, Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center will screen Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1952 The Life of Oharu on 35 mm. Adapted from poet-novelist Ihara Sa…

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Kenji Mizoguchi

Director

Kenji Mizoguchi
Kenji Mizoguchi

Often named as one of Japan’s three most important filmmakers (alongside Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu), Kenji Mizoguchi created a cinema rich in technical mastery and social commentary, specifically regarding the place of women in Japanese society. After an upbringing marked by poverty and abuse, Mizoguchi found solace in art, trying his hand at both oil painting and theater set design before, at the age of twenty-two in 1920, enrolling as an assistant director at Nikkatsu studios. By the midthirties, he had developed his craft by directing dozens of movies in a variety of genres, but he would later say that he didn’t consider his career to have truly begun until 1936, with the release of the companion films Osaka Elegy and Sisters of the Gion, about women both professionally and romantically trapped. Japanese film historian Donald Richie called Gion “one of the best Japanese films ever made.” Over the next decade, Mizoguchi made such wildly different tours de force as The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (1939), The 47 Ronin (1941–42), and Women of the Night (1948), but not until 1952 did he break through internationally, with The Life of Oharu, a poignant tale of a woman’s downward spiral in an unforgiving society. That film paved the road to half a decade of major artistic and financial successes for Mizoguchi, including the masterful ghost story Ugetsu (1953) and the gut-wrenching drama Sansho the Bailiff (1954), both flaunting extraordinarily sophisticated compositions and camera movement. The last film Mizoguchi made before his death at age fifty-eight was Street of Shame (1956), a shattering exposé set in a bordello that directly led to the outlawing of prostitution in Japan. Few filmmakers can claim to have had such impact.