V. Lepistö 🏳️🌈’s review published on Letterboxd:
Mizoguchi's film is so "obvious" that it goes with its themes beyond what can be seen as and is commentary on Japanese society. Oharu's fate has been set. When? The film leaves us almost nothing but a possibility to say: when she was born. Long takes make sure that Oharu goes through every humiliation and every desperation, that she handles every tiny emotion from small to something big.
She is beaten and torn apart - happiness doesn't quite balance the film because the brief experiences of it aren't enough to canopy the fatalism. This is a fate set by men, the extremely unequal system that still belongs to the everyday. Even today the equality situation between men and women there has been ranked somewhere among top 120 worst countries. But all this is only poor trivia compared to the soul that Mizoguchi brings to the film with his cold, elaborate mise-en-scene. It's very weird to say that someone could make a soulful film with something cold. But when this cold is truth that becomes sympathy because it is honesty, we can truly talk about a film with a soul.
Film's power comes from its images. Who could forget the humor-filled woman searching scene that actually is everything opposite and so accurately constructs the whole ridiculousness of woman's position - it's very sharp and clear picture of people who aren't humans, it's not the root of the problem but the problem itself. Or the image of Oharu sitting in front of men who reject her natural, human position, spit at her behind their high, artificial positions and their vanity. Perhaps the single most freezing scene is where Oharu tells the men who are chasing her: "I gave him his life". Men stop at once, bow before her. At that moment she is a saint. But soon this nearly religious experience wears off and they are back at poor Oharu's throat.
Mizoguchi's extreme approach isn't for everyone and it's not easy to understand or even accept but it is the truth. And we shouldn't just skip it as "lesson of the past". I don't think we have come too far from it. It's not "Japanese problem" nor just "feminism". It's universal problem, a film about being a human. Haunting and devastating - perhaps because the film never really ends.