Celebrate the Centennial of Japanese Cinema Great Setsuko Hara

Setsuko Hara (born on June 17 1920) did not have an especially long acting career. Even though she lived to the age of 95, she retired from the screen in 1962, and became something of a recluse, even as the world became more and more aware of her special gifts during the decades that followed.

She had acted in many films, including Akira Kurosawa’s 1946 NO REGRETS FOR OUR YOUTH, before the legendary director Yasujirô Ozu cast her in LATE SPRING (1949) as Noriko, an unmarried woman in her late ’20s who is torn between familial devotion and the expectations of society. It’s a remarkable film, and Setsuko Hara essays the role of Noriko with enormous skill and subtlety. It was the first of her six collaborations with Ozu, whose vision blended especially well with her talents. Their collaborations resulted in some of the finest films that have ever been made, TOKYO STORY (1953) and LATE AUTUMN (1960) are highly recommended, but you can’t go wrong here. You can find these on the Criterion Channel and Kanopy, by the way.

She became an icon in Japanese culture, representing a particular archetype in society that might best be exemplified by her LATE SPRING character. She was called the “Eternal Virgin” by many – which did not exactly thrill her. Her retirement immediately following Ozu’s death, deprived the world of her artistry, but she seemed perfectly happy to go on living without the cinema. Her last 50 years were spent in seclusion in Kamakura, a small city outside Tokyo.

Her legend, which persisted in Japanese culture for decades after her films ceased to be widely known by the mainstream public, inspired filmmaker Satoshi Kon to make the 2001 film MILLENNIUM ACTRESS which features as its subject a reclusive former movie star very much in the Setsuko Hara mold.

 

 

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