Movie Magazine International

The Life of Oharu

Japan - 1952

Movie Review By Andrea Chase

"The Life of Oharu" asks the cinematic question, "Can a girl be too pretty?" According to this 1952 Japanese import, the answer is an emphatic "YES!" It tells the story of a seventeenth century beauty who possesses a pure heart and noble spirit. In other words, a prime candidate for heartache and melodrama.

The story begins with Oharu, now an old woman, reflecting on the tumultuous events of her life. It all began with the true love that she, a member of the imperial court, inspires in a lowly page (played by a very young Toshiro Mifune). When she succumbed to his sweet talk and noble intentions, the first of many disasters ensued. He's beheaded for his impertinence, but she's exiled with her parents to the middle of nowhere. I leave it to you to decide whose punishment is the harshest.

There, Oharu is offered the chance to become the concubine of a powerful warlord. It's not quite honorable, but her parents see it as a gold mine. Oharu is packed off after being scolded for attempting suicide.

Things go downhill from there. Victimized by lustful men, jealous women, and greedy parents, she finds herself falling as low as a woman can, denied even the solace of religion when she seeks it out. Every time things begin to look up for Oharu, you can bet that something awful is only moments away.

There are piquant moments amid the sturm and drang. The amazed ego-deflation of the loveliest women in Kyoto as the majordomo of a powerful lord discovers a tiny flaw in each one and they are summarily dismissed. Or Oharu's exquisite feline revenge against a vain and petty persecutor.

But mostly "The Life of Oharu" is soap opera at it's very finest. "Dynasty," Dallas," or even the Kennedy clan's got nothing on the twists and turns that a malevolent fate dishes up for this poor girl. You will be riveted.

© 1997 - Andrea Chase - Air Date: 10/10/97

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