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Setsuko Hara, RIP


Setsuko Hara, one of the greatest actors in film historym has died. Hara worked with most of the great Japanese directors of the postwar era, but her finest work was in the wonderful films of Yasujiro Ozu, including the transcendent Tokyo Story, where she plays the widowed daughter-in-law who cares more about her aging in-laws than any of their surviving children. Not a lot happens in Ozu films except talking but given that he largely shot the films with the actors speaking directly to the camera, the personal power of these family stories transcend postwar Japan and created some of the finest films ever made. Her performances radiated a powerful independent grace in a transitioning Japanese society. She disappeared from the public eye in the early 1960s and I didn’t even know she was still alive. In fact, she died in early September at the age of 95 and it was never reported until today.

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  • MaureenDowdsLudes

    Screening a beautiful, restored version of Late Spring right at this moment. Working at a museum has its advantages sometimes.

    • Get of the blog and watch Late Spring! I should do that myself.

      Speaking of such things, I saw Like Someone in Love last night, the Kiarostami film he shot in Japan. It was really great.

      • MaureenDowdsLudes

        Ha. I also screened it twice for the curator so I’m good to browse the blog. The screening was proceeded by a short detailing the restoration. Very informative. A digital copy, not 35mm, but that’s the way it goes these days. Love Kiarostami.

        • Barry Freed

          Nice. I’ve seen enough screenings where you work that I’d probably recognize you on sight if we ever met. But alas I’ve since moved far away or you would have seen me there last night (or rather earlier tonight – it’s early the morning of the 26th where I live now and time to get ready for work). Signed, ex-NYC cinephile.

      • catclub

        Was Hara in Woman of (in?) the Dunes? That was by Ozu also, wasn’t it?

        • djw

          No, Ozu was dead and she was retired by then.

        • jcor

          Woman in the Dunes is by Teshigahara Hiroshi. The actress in that film is Kishida Kyoko.

  • gmack

    Thanks for posting this. The scene that produced this screen shot is one of the greatest I’ve ever seen, in any film.

    • Barry Freed

      Seconded on both counts. RIP.

    • JS

      And thirded. There are very, very few scenes in the history of cinema that can reliably, actually bring tears to my eyes. This is one of them, maybe even the only one.

  • djw

    I’m find myself taking this quite a bit harder than it makes any sense to take it. In addition to all the extraordinary Ozu films, her work with Naruse (the less subtle, more militant feminist filmmaker) is quite remarkable as well–Repast and Sound of the Mountain. (I think there are more I haven’t seen.) And of course No Regrets for our Youth.

  • Keaaukane

    Bah. No Japanese film that doesn’t feature a guy in a rubber suit smashing a card board Tokyo, with a bunch of extras running in place, looking over their shoulders saying “Monsters come” and a boy in shorts named Jimmy commanding the military is worth watching.

    Though I did take my Japanese girlfriend to a showing of Realm of the Senses, which provoked years of accusation and incrimination about whose culture was more perverted. (I had made the mistake of sharing with her the indictment of Adam of Bremen, quoted in History of the Swedish People, Vol I, that the Swedes were only interested in drunkenness and fornication)

    • Keaaukane

      Sorry. Per the MST3K Amazing, Colossal Episode Guide, the boy’s name should be Kenny. I regret any inconvenience caused by my error.

  • jcor

    She was the last of the greatest generation of Japanese actresses. Tanaka Kinuyo died early, in 1977, Takamine Hideko died in 2010, and Yamada Isuzu died in 2012. In addition to the films referenced above and in the AV Club obit, I’d recommend Naruse’s Repast and Sudden Rain as great performances (Yoshimura’s The Ball at the Anjo House is a little overwrought, for my tastes). I’d quibble slightly with the characterization of Ozu’s films. I think that a great deal happens in his films, both in terms of plot and visually. Lastly, despite her greatness as an actress, she was long rumored to have strongly right wing views. Her brother-in-law, Kumagai, was associated with rightist elements in Japan during the war years. I’d recommend Peter High’s The Imperial Screen for an illuminating overview of the Japanese film industry during the Pacific War years. But nothing can take away those emotionally raw performances in Ozu, Naruse, and Kinoshita films for me.

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