Presented in a manner as eerie as it is heartbreaking, this film is a gorgeous supernatural fable about the folly of men with dreams larger than their abilities and their women who suffer as a result. Genjuro (Masuyaki Mori) is a potter who longs for wealth and luxury, while Tobei (Sakae Ozawa), a farmer, dreams of the glories of the samurai to the point of ignoring his wife. Though a war rages around them, they venture to town to sell their wares. Genjuro becomes bewitched by a beautiful though vengeful ghost (Machiko Kyo), while his wife is murdered by a soldier; Tobei becomes a noted warrior, while his wife descends into prostitution after being raped while searching for her husband.
Life of Oharu features Kinuyo Tanaka in the title role. Oharu is a middle-aged prostitute in 17th century Japan. As she prays before a statue of Buddha, Oharu reviews her past. Her road to degradation began when, as a teenager, she disgraced her family by falling in love with a samurai (Toshiro Mifune). Oharu became the mistress of a prince, who cast her off after she bore his son. She was then sold into prostitution by her father, and thus began a catch-as-catch-can existence alternating between brief happiness with those she genuinely loved and servitude to those she despised. A potential happy ending, reuniting her with her royal son, is dashed by the much-maligned Oharu herself, who opts for the life of a beggar. Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, a lifelong advocate of equitable treatment for Japanese women, Life of Oharu was adapted from a novel by Saikaku Ibara.
A man returns from World War II to find his desperate wife has resorted to one night of prostitution to pay for their son's hospital bills.
"Actress" is not just the story that charts the rise of Kinuyo Tanaka, played brilliantly by Sayuri Yoshinaga, who mesmerized and illuminated the screen with her charismatic performance of a legend, from her naively youthful days in pigtails, to coiffed professional veteran of the industry. We see how she started off in the studio system being one of many potential talents available, having her family's economical hopes all pinned on her, and down to having a sugar daddy of sorts in Hiroshi Shimizu (Toru Watanabe) looking over her shoulder, whom she would get into and out of an unhappy secret marriage.