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The Life of Oharu

is a 1952 historical fiction black-and-white film directed by Kenji Mizoguchi starring Kinuyo Tanaka as Oharu, a one-time concubine of a daimyō (and mother of a later daimyō) who struggles to escape the stigma of having been forced into prostitution by her father.

Plot

The story opens on Oharu as an old woman in a temple flashing back through the events of her life. It begins with her love affair with a page, Katsunosuke (Toshirō Mifune), the result of which (due to their class difference) is his execution and her family's banishment. Oharu attempts suicide but fails and is sold to be the mistress of Lord Matsudaira with the hope she will bear him a son. She does, but then is sent home with minimal compensation to the dismay of her father, who has worked up quite a debt in the meantime. He sends her to be a courtesan, but there, too, she fails and is again sent home. She goes to serve the family of a woman who must hide the fact that she is bald from her husband. The woman becomes jealous of Oharu and makes her chop off her hair, but Oharu retaliates, revealing the woman's secret. She again must leave—this time she marries a fan maker who is killed shortly after during a robbery. She attempts to become a nun, but Oharu is thrown out after being caught naked with a man seeking reimbursement for an unauthorized gift (it is made clear this is rape by Oharu's claims and distraught demeanor). She is thrown out of the temple, becomes a prostitute, but fails even at that. In the end, she is recalled to the Lord's house in order to keep secret her activities and to be exiled within the compounds to keep her secrets locked away. While being scolded for the life she chose, she attempts to find her son, and in the process, ends up running away as she chooses the life of a wandering nun over the life in exile.