Friday, November 27, 2015

Setsuko Hara remembered

Setsuko Hara in Kurosawa's The Idiot (Hakuchi), based on Dostoevsky, in a role based on Nastassya Filippovna.
Setsuko Hara, the great star of the Japanese screen, died in early September, but I first read about it in Variety two days ago when her death was first announced. The film world does not seem to have noticed her passing yet.

Like Olivia de Havilland and Deanna Durbin in Hollywood and Regina Linnanheimo in Finland Setsuko Hara disappeared totally from public life after the end of her career.

She was born on 17 June, 1920, and died on 5 September, 2015. She started her film career as a teenager during Japan's imperialist era in the 1930s and had her breakthrough in the famous Anticomintern film co-directed by Arnold Fanck (the master of German mountain films) and Mansaku Itami called The Daughter of the Samurai (1937). It ends in a celebration of the life on the "New Earth" of Manchuria (Northeast China) which Japan attacked and occupied in the first prelude to WWII.

After the war Setsuko Hara became a soulful star for Akira Kurosawa, most memorably in The Idiot where she interpreted Dostoevsky's Nastassya Filippovna who perishes tragically in the violent rivalry of Kinji Kameda and Denkichi Akama (Myshkin and Rogozhin).

That was a Shochiku production, and her most immortal roles Setsuko Hara created for Shochiku's master directors Yasujiro Ozu and Mikio Naruse. When Yasujiro Ozu crystallized his film style to his final, mature, reduced form, it started in a film starring Setsuko Hara, Late Spring. With her Ozu created his "Noriko trilogy" (Late Spring, Early Summer, Tokyo Story). Noriko is a modern, intelligent, independent woman who is spiritually capable of transcending the ballast of tradition but remains deferential to tradition and family ties.

Like Ozu himself and like many characters she played Setsuko Hara stayed single and had no children; but she was family-oriented and devoted to her friends.

Although Hideko Takamine was the main actress for Mikio Naruse, Setsuko Hara performed memorably for him, too. In Meshi (Repast, 1951) she played an estranged wife. Yama no oto (Sound of the Mountain, 1954) was a distinguished adaptation of a novel by Yasunari Kawabata. Naruse and Hara collaborated also in Shuu (Sudden Rain, 1956), and Musume tsuma haha (Daughters, Wives, and a Mother, 1960).

In her last Ozu roles Hara played a separated wife (Tokyo Twilight, 1957), a widowed mother (Late Autumn, 1960), and a widowed daughter-in-law (The End of Summer / "Autumn for the Kohayagawa Family", 1961). After Ozu's death in 1963 Setsuko Hara retired from public life.

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