The Life of Oharu makes Requiem for a Dream look like a comedy. Kenji Mizoguchi, one of Japan’s greatest exports of cinema, called this film his personal masterpiece, and it’s an interesting choice. Though his films aren’t up there with the likes of Akira Kurosawa in their widespread acclaim, Mizoguchi has produced many critically acclaimed films that it’s interesting that he picks his most devastating as his personal favourite.
We are introduced to Oharu as a wandering old nun, exiled from most corners of society. From there, we follow a whistle stop tour through the events in her life that led her to such an empty existence. Mizoguchi bombards us with harrowing events one after the other that show how she fell further down the social ladder with little control of her destiny. Even for most Japanese period pieces, this one really takes the life out of you.
It’s easily understandable why many see this is as a masterpiece. Mizoguchi tackles gender roles and the cruelty that women face at the hands of men in such poignant and effective ways. Life in feudal Japan does not look like a fun filled affair for anyone in this film, but Mizoguchi goes further to capture the despair and devastation of Oharu, as well as various other ill-fated characters she meets on the way. The only thing is, as respectable as this film is 65 years later, just like Requiem for a Dream it is not one to be enjoyed. I am proud to have this film in my collection, but can only see it gathering dust in the future. There is little chance of me wanting to suffer through the life of Oharu once more.