Oharu’s tough gal schtick isn’t enough to fend off Katsunosuke’s amorous advances. True, if their fling were publicized, Japan’s Edo period punishment for breeding between the lines would be enacted swiftly and finally. And so was the fate of the briefly successful, lowly page Katsunosuke, who, despite the perks of Oharu’s hoi polloi heritage, wanted only to marry for love. This retributive rejoinder is the first in a long procession of responses – with layovers at palaces and whorehouses, convents and domeciles – to quandaries that Oharu’s actions really haven’t posed.
The Life of Oharu is perhaps too optimistic a titling for the inauspicious chain of events that befall our director’s trampled heroine. Analogous to the Bunraku puppet’s operator, Mizoguchi employs a fine motor control: fluid and deliberate camera movements, peeking around a corner or straining down to peer through an opening, in order to reveal some scene darkening aspect of the action space. He precisely denies us the few joys that Oharu must’ve experienced by instead fading to black, tenuto: the woman gives birth to a child and she finally does marry (for love). What’s left is cruelty and shadow – a woman whose every round-faced, translucent-lobed, diaphonous-nailed conformance to ideal beauty is a commodity for trade and consumption. And consumed she is, to the point of exuding a goblin-like aura that serves, for her latter day customers, as an object lesson in chastity. What we know about Oharu is what has happened to her, and where we’re locked out of a fuller, more recognizable humanness, we’re indeed thankful for the lush cinematic treatment of what’s there.
- The Life of Oharu (Mizoguchi 1952) @ BAM/PFA #JapaneseDivas