Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Life of Oharu (1952)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Life of Oharu (1952, Jp.) (aka Saikaku Ichidai Onna)

In director Kenji Mizoguchi's melodramatic and sad masterpiece, chronicling the tragic, tough, scorned and cruel life of a Japanese woman who was exploited by the male-dominated society of her time - her story of misfortune was told in flashback:

  • the characterization of Oharu (Kinuyo Tanaka), daughter of royal samurai Shinzaemon (Ichiro Sugai); she was originally born as a young noblewoman into a respectable family in 17th century Japan, but her fortunes became reversed through a series of unfortunate events - mostly because of a tortured love affair with a lower class lover Inosuke (Toshiro Mifune); she begged for him to understand: "No matter what you say, we can never be together...Neither the court nor my father would ever allow it"; he implored her to run away with him: "Then we'll run away. We'll make a home of our own. I'll do my utmost. I'd gladly do anything to protect you. Lady Oharu!"; she fell into his arms and then collapsed to the ground
  • the scene of Oharu caught in "forbidden love" - making love with Inosuke - and accused of being a prostitute; she was confronted: "You dress like a noblewoman. Where are you from, whore?"; she disagreed: "How dare you! I'm not a prostitute!"; she was arrested, taken to the local magistrate, accused of disgracing her family - and immediately exiled (Inosuke was executed): "Oharu Okui, while serving in the Imperial Court, you violated protocol by associating with a personage of low birth. As punishment for this illicit liaison, you are sentenced as follows: You are hereby banished from the city of Kyoto, never to return. Your parents, for failing to provide proper guidance, are hereby also sentenced to exile. This judgment is effective today, the 7th of November 1686"
  • after a lifetime of disgrace and banishment-exile, Oharu was seen as an impoverished, 50 year-old street prostitute who had to resort to begging and hiding her age; she was asked about her fall from grace by other prostitutes: "You used to serve in the Imperial Court. Did you ever think you'd end up like this? How did you fall so far?" - Oharu was reluctant to answer: "Please don't ask about my past"
  • the next sequence - the most exquisitely filmed - Oharu (seated in front of a gate) briefly glimpsed a procession of her upper-class son (whom she bore for Lord Matsudaira many years earlier); he remained oblivious to her existence as she gracefully moved from left to right to follow him ascending a small slope, and then returned to her place by the gate and began to cry
Impoverished Elderly Oharu Watching Her
Upper-Class Son's Procession

The Tortured Love Affair Between Japanese Imperial Court Courtesan Oharu and Lower Class Lover Inosuke (Toshiro Mifune)

Caught in "Forbidden Love"

Sentenced to Exile by Magistrate

Oharu As a 50 Year-Old Street Prostitute


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