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 Post subject: 664 The Life of Oharu
PostPosted: Mon Apr 15, 2013 2:15 pm 
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The Life of Oharu

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A peerless chronicler of the soul who specialized in supremely emotional, visually exquisite films about the circumstances of women in Japanese society throughout its history, Kenji Mizoguchi had already been directing movies for decades when he made The Life of Oharu in 1952. But this epic portrait of an inexorable fall from grace, starring the incredibly talented Kinuyo Tanaka as an imperial lady-in-waiting who gradually descends to street prostitution, was the movie that gained its director international attention, ushering in a new golden period for him.

SPECIAL FEATURES

• New high-definition digital film restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
• Introductory commentary by scholar Dudley Andrew
Mizoguchi's Art and the Demimonde, an illustrated audio essay featuring Andrew
Kinuyo Tanaka's New Departure, a 2009 film by Koko Kajiyama documenting the actor's 1949 goodwill tour of the United States
• New English subtitle translation
• PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Gilberto Perez


Last edited by swo17 on Fri Sep 06, 2013 3:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 15, 2013 2:47 pm 
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I wonder if there's going to be more added to the booklet. After all, there's been so much written about this film that it seems crazy to just provide one perspective, even if it manages to be a fairly comprehensive one. Still, this looks to be a very impressive package. I'm particularly interested in the Kajiyama documentary.

This film is top-tier Mizoguchi for me. It represents and even magnifies some of the problems I have with him, most notably the tragic slant to most of his work (this is a tough one to get through, no doubt) but I guess his camera is too impressive and Tanaka puts so much effort into Oharu that I can't help but love it.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 15, 2013 2:48 pm 
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Wow! Absolutely over the moon about this. I honestly never thought it would make it to blu (or even a half decent dvd!). I never buy Criterions now due to the exorbitant import duties and the phony baloney charges exacted by Royal Mail, but this is a must. It'll be ravishing I'm sure.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 15, 2013 3:02 pm 
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What is an introductory commentary??


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 15, 2013 3:16 pm 
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Good question. Sounds like a hybrid between the onscreen director introductions (think captain ascot's little video pieces ) and scene specific audio commentaries that don't take up the whole track.

This film ia not my favorite Mizo by a long shot... it wanders headlong into Mouchette territory in that it bangs a cinematic gong of just never-ending torment of the principal character, producing a film of unrelenting suffering without letup.

In his rendering of female tragedy, give me anything in for example the eclipse set over this film... although there ia undoubtedly an awful lot to comment Oharu. There are some absolutely dazzling moments which as set pieces rival anything in the man's glorious canon.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 15, 2013 3:39 pm 
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FINALLY. After years of waiting, I downloaded a bootleg copy not too long ago, and soon after, had the chance to catch a so-so 35mm print of it at MoMA (a packed weekend screening). Such a great film, even if no great elements exist, it really deserves to be readily available in some watchable form.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 15, 2013 4:15 pm 
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I don't know that its necessarily all THAT bad. I have the Artificial Eye disc of the film, of which you can see caps on the Beev,and its not in the class of Unwatchable by any means. Certainly no worse than so much of, say, Ozus late 40s/early 50s masterpieces.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 15, 2013 4:20 pm 
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IIRC, the Artificial Eye release has burnt-in English sub?


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 15, 2013 4:26 pm 
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andyli wrote:
IIRC, the Artificial Eye release has burnt-in English sub?

Don't quote me on this, I'd hafta dig for it, but I think that was Musashino w the burnt in subs, not Oharu.

Edit.. actually I think I'm the one who got them crossed. I need to dig this out. But Gary's site says Musashino does NOT have the burnt in subs between the 2.

So probably my bad.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 15, 2013 4:31 pm 
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Gary's correct.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 15, 2013 4:39 pm 
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My dislike for Mizo is well documented, but the Tanaka documentary sounds so full of potential that I'll snatch up this muskrat despite the headlining title.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 15, 2013 6:22 pm 
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HerrSchreck wrote:
This film ia not my favorite Mizo by a long shot... it wanders headlong into Mouchette territory in that it bangs a cinematic gong of just never-ending torment of the principal character, producing a film of unrelenting suffering without letup.

In his rendering of female tragedy, give me anything in for example the eclipse set over this film... although there ia undoubtedly an awful lot to comment Oharu. There are some absolutely dazzling moments which as set pieces rival anything in the man's glorious canon.
I think Tanaka is just as responsible for making this film work as much as Mizoguchi is, if only because being hit by constant waves of misfortune would be unbearable if a lesser actress was asked to endure such a thing. In a way, this might not even be the hardest Mizoguchi for him, even as it is, on the surface, easily the most brutal. It's not just that she's that good, it's that she's familiar with this kind of treatment. An interesting film to contrast it with is Oyu-sama, which I would argue to be Mizoguchi's very worst, yet it also contains Tanaka and a similar tone. There's something to be said about pathos in favor of melodrama, and I use the latter phrase in the typical, "unacademic" sense of fiction that isn't believable. This one works for me because even as it is something of torture, it still feels somewhat grounded in reality, which is a result of many things, but I certainly think Mizoguchi's admiration for Tanaka personally may have contributed.

On a similar note, it's probably worth mentioning that Mizoguchi himself wasn't exactly a great humanitarian with his performers. Perhaps something to think about the next time I take the downward spiral with Oharu.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 15, 2013 7:08 pm 

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HerrSchreck wrote:
it wanders headlong into Mouchette territory in that it bangs a cinematic gong of just never-ending torment of the principal character, producing a film of unrelenting suffering without letup.

It is not true that the suffering is unrelenting. When Oharu is reunited with her son there is a brief respite. True, the promise of future happiness turns out to be an illusion, but there is a very definite pause before her humiliation resumes. But notice also: at the point of utter abasement, Oharu takes matters in hand and escapes--miraculously so, it would appear. In the final scene we see her begging--not necessarily a dishonorable activity in Japanese society. It is certainly to be preferred to the fate her "family" intended for her, and, at any rate, it is the path she has chosen for herself. She is bereft, and yet she is in control of her life at last.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 15, 2013 8:01 pm 
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I hope this will look as good as it deserves to look. Tanaka is outstanding (even more than her norm). Extra points to those who can recognize Mifune in his important (but brief) part.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 15, 2013 8:15 pm 
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I think it's worth remembering that Mizoguchi's film is adapted from a comic (and erotic!) novel by Saikaku, entitled The Life of an Amorous Woman (1686). Mizoguchi refashions the story as a melodrama and gives the heroine more psychological depth than in the novel, but the film still contains a number of overtly comic scenes. Apparently, Mizoguchi also stated that he wanted to make a film "à la Chaplin." (I mention this in an article that I wrote for the Turner Classic Movies website.) At least for me, this layer of comic irony makes the film a lot more interesting. If it were only a tale of unrelieved woe, it wouldn't be as rewarding. I still prefer Ugetsu Monogatari and Sansho the Bailiff, but a Criterion Blu-ray is fantastic news and easily the happiest surprise this month.

I'm sure that Dudley Andrew's audio essay Mizoguchi's Art and the Demimonde will shed a lot of light on the cultural context behind the film. I'm looking forward to it!


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 16, 2013 12:55 pm 
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Well I certainly would want to be the last to try and talk down anybody's enjoyment of this film, much less Jim S. above who I always admire and am happy to exchange ideas with.

I didn't mean to suggest that the film was literally without light moment, or lacked even ten or twenty seconds worth of neutral air.

The best analogy I can give is that this in miniature, over the course of its runtime, resembles what kind of made the Clash redundant in the end. Their strong ANTI stance grew wearisome for folks and they sort of ran out of things to yell about and people got bored... Not me, though.

This film for me, as dazzling as some of the moments are, just becomes a little redundant and one-note. I just don't see it up there at the level of Mizos best in terms of narrative thru line and engagement of my baited senses . . But that's just me.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 16, 2013 2:29 pm 
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HerrSchreck wrote:
Well I certainly would want to be the last to try and talk down anybody's enjoyment of this film, much less Jim S. above who I always admire and am happy to exchange ideas with.

I didn't mean to suggest that the film was literally without light moment, or lacked even ten or twenty seconds worth of neutral air.

The best analogy I can give is that this in miniature, over the course of its runtime, resembles what kind of made the Clash redundant in the end. Their strong ANTI stance grew wearisome for folks and they sort of ran out of things to yell about and people got bored... Not me, though.

This film for me, as dazzling as some of the moments are, just becomes a little redundant and one-note. I just don't see it up there at the level of Mizos best in terms of narrative thru line and engagement of my baited senses . . But that's just me.


HerrSchreck, this is a perfectly legitimate and not uncommon criticism of the film. In fact I think you're right that, dramatically speaking, it's a bit one-note despite the superlative performance by Tanaka and the many beautifully staged scenes. Maybe on a fundamental level it arises from Mizoguchi's decision to treat the Saikaku's episodic narrative as a melodrama. Who knows, if he had made the film more explicitly as a comic picaresque tale throughout, it might have worked better. I do think that the elements of comedy enrich it, but regardless I will revisit it with enthusiasm.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 16, 2013 3:13 pm 

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It now occurs to me that Oharu, in her final scene, is wearing the clothes of a Buddhist nun. She has renounced the world. Of course, the world long ago renounced her, but still she has made a choice and has found a way to press on. This is very different from other Mizoguchi heroines who are either trapped in a fate they can do nothing to alter or decide that suicide is the only move they can bear. There's actually hope at the end of this film.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 16, 2013 4:34 pm 
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I probably love this above all other Mizoguchi. The mise en scene, right from the liquid opening in the dark, camera tip-toeing behind Oharu, moves beyond the usual level of elegance and proficiency, combining with the hold of Tanaka's central performance to become something utterly spellbinding. I can't object to it in the sense of content/tone being one-note because it has me all the way. When despair is spun so masterfully and delicately, as a long-breathed almost musical development, it can be a wondrous thing. I certainly don't find it to be a trial in the manner of Mouchette or so much Bergman. But different strokes!

The Artificial Eye DVD from yonks ago is still surprisingly watchable, but not much more, and the subs are indeed burnt in. The source looks rather dupey, but there's quite a bit of detail considering. If this is elevated to the level of the BFI's Tokyo Story / Late Spring I'll be very pleased. I don't mind the print wear on those at all - in fact one of the fascinations of blu-ray is that it renders all of that fine rain of scratches in such a filmic manner!


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 16, 2013 4:44 pm 

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You guys talk like unrelenting despair is not the supreme height that a film can achieve. I am very confused.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 16, 2013 4:57 pm 
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Perkins Cobb wrote:
You guys talk like unrelenting despair is not the supreme height that a film can achieve. I am very confused.

So I take it Cannibal Holocaust is your #1 movie ever?


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 16, 2013 6:10 pm 

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Only 'cause of all the animals that get killed.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 16, 2013 7:39 pm 
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I love Oharu -- but have always felt that the segments were better, each taken one by one, than the experience of sitting through the whole film (at one time). But Tanaka's performance is so wonderful here that I overlook any problems I _could_ find with the film.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 16, 2013 7:45 pm 
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A more kindly statement of what essentially are my feelings. There are moments in that film that are so good they border on miraculous.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 16, 2013 7:51 pm 
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To me, the price of dealing with a somewhat too drawn-out narrative is a small one, when the reward is getting to experience the miraculous moments. ;~}


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