The Life of Oharu

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The Life of Oharu
The Life Of Oharu.0-15-42.848.jpg
Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
Screenplay by
Based on The Life of an Amorous Woman
by Saikaku Ihara
Produced by
Cinematography Yoshimi Hirano
Edited by Toshio Gotō
Music by Ichirō Saitō
Distributed byShintoho
Release date
  • 17 April 1952 (1952-04-17) [1]
Running time
148 minutes [1]

The Life of Oharu (西鶴一代女, Saikaku Ichidai Onna) is a 1952 Japanese historical fiction film directed by Kenji Mizoguchi from a screenplay by Yoshikata Yoda. It stars Kinuyo Tanaka 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] [3]


The Life of Oharu is based on various stories from Ihara Saikaku's 1686 work The Life of an Amorous Woman . The film was produced by the Shintoho Company and executive produced by Isamu Yoshiji, with cinematography by Yoshimi Hirano. The production designer was Hiroshi Mizutani and Isamu Yoshi was the historical consultant.


A scene from the movie showing a daimyo palace in the Edo period (filmed at Nijo castle in Kyoto.) The Life Of Oharu.0-09-24.271.jpg
A scene from the movie showing a daimyō palace in the Edo period (filmed at Nijo castle in Kyoto.)

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, who courted Oharu The Life Of Oharu.0-15-06.921.jpg
Toshiro Mifune as page Katsunosuke, who courted Oharu
Oharu and fictional daimyo lord Harutaka Matsudaira (Toshiaki Konoe) The Life Of Oharu.0-46-31.649.jpg
Oharu and fictional daimyō lord Harutaka Matsudaira (Toshiaki Konoe)
Hisako Yamane as Lady Matsudaira The Life Of Oharu.0-41-51.717.jpg
Hisako Yamane as Lady Matsudaira


The Life of Oharu won the International Prize at the 1952 Venice International Film Festival and was nominated for the Golden Lion. [4] The film (as well as the 1952 films Himitsu, Inazuma, and Okaasan ) won the 1953 Mainichi Film Concours award for best film score (Ichirō Saitō).


The Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa cited The Life of Oharu as one of his 100 favorite films. [5]

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  1. 1 2 "西鶴一代女". Japanese Movie Database (in Japanese). Retrieved 6 February 2021.
  2. "西鶴一代女". Agency for Cultural Affairs . Retrieved 27 December 2020.
  3. "西鶴一代女". Kinema Junpo . Retrieved 27 December 2020.
  4. "西鶴一代女". kotobank. Retrieved 27 December 2020.
  5. 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.