The Life of Oharu

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The Life of Oharu
Directed byKenji Mizoguchi
Screenplay by
Based onThe Life of an Amorous Woman
by Saikaku Ihara
Produced by
  • Hideo Koi
  • Kenji Mizoguchi
CinematographyYoshimi Hirano
Edited byToshio Gotō
Music byIchirō Saitō
Distributed byShintoho
Release date
  • 17 April 1952 (1952-04-17) (Japan)[1][2]
Running time
136 minutes[3]

The Life of Oharu (西鶴一代女, Saikaku ichidai onna, lit. "Saikaku: Life of a woman") is a 1952 Japanese historical drama film directed by Kenji Mizoguchi. The screenplay by Yoshikata Yoda is based on various stories from Saikaku Ihara's 1686 work The Life of an Amorous Woman. Kinuyo Tanaka stars as Oharu, a one-time concubine of a daimyō (and mother of a later daimyō) who struggles to escape the stigma of having been forced into prostitution by her father.[2]


The story opens on Oharu as an old woman in a temple flashing back through the events of her life. It begins with her love affair with a page, Katsunosuke, the result of which (due to their class difference) is his execution and her family's banishment. Oharu attempts suicide but fails and is sold to be the mistress of Lord Matsudaira with the hope she will bear him a son. She does, but then is sent home with minimal compensation to the dismay of her father, who has worked up quite a debt in the meantime. He sends her to be a courtesan, but there, too, she fails and is again sent home.

Oharu goes to serve the family of a woman who must hide the fact that she is bald from her husband. The woman becomes jealous of Oharu and makes her chop off her hair, but Oharu retaliates, revealing the woman's secret. She again must leave—this time she marries a fan maker who is killed shortly after during a robbery. She attempts to become a nun, but Oharu is thrown out after being caught naked with a man seeking reimbursement for an unauthorized gift (it is made clear this is rape by Oharu's claims and distraught demeanor). She is thrown out of the temple, becomes a prostitute, but fails even at that. In the end, she is recalled to the Lord's house to be exiled within the compounds to keep her secrets locked away. While being scolded for the life she chose, she attempts to find her son, and in the process, ends up running away as she chooses the life of a wandering nun over the life in exile.


Toshiro Mifune as page Katsunosuke
Oharu and fictional daimyō lord Harutaka Matsudaira (Toshiaki Konoe)
Hisako Yamane as Lady Matsudaira


The Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa cited The Life of Oharu as one of his 100 favorite films.[4]


The Life of Oharu received the International Prize at the 1952 Venice International Film Festival.[5][6] Composer Ichirō Saitō received the 1952 Mainichi Film Award for The Life of Oharu, Inazuma, Mother and Himitsu.[7]


Mizoguchi's film was included in Kinema Junpo's 2009 "critics top 200" list[8][9] and in the British Film Institute's 2020 "The best Japanese film of every year – from 1925 to now" list.[10]


  1. ^ "西鶴一代女". Japanese Movie Database (in Japanese). Retrieved 6 February 2021.
  2. ^ a b "西鶴一代女" (in Japanese). Kinema Junpo. Retrieved 27 December 2020.
  3. ^ "西鶴一代女". National Film Archive of Japan (in Japanese). Retrieved 29 August 2023.
  4. ^ Thomas-Mason, Lee (12 January 2021). "From Stanley Kubrick to Martin Scorsese: Akira Kurosawa once named his top 100 favourite films of all time". Far Out Magazine. Retrieved 23 January 2023.
  5. ^ "西鶴一代女". Kotobank (in Japanese). Retrieved 27 December 2020.
  6. ^ "The Life of Oharu (Saikaku ichidai onna)". Harvard Film Archive. Retrieved 29 August 2023.
  7. ^ "毎日映画コンクール 第7回(1952年)". Mainichi (in Japanese). Retrieved 29 August 2023.
  8. ^ "Kinema Junpo critics top 200". MUBI. Retrieved 29 August 2023.
  9. ^ "Top 200 - Kinema Junpō (2009)". Sens critique (in French). Retrieved 29 August 2023.
  10. ^ "The best Japanese film of every year – from 1925 to now". British Film Institute. Retrieved 29 August 2023.

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