Saturday, October 16, 2010

Setsuko Hara

The VIZ Cinema at Post & Webster is, this week only, screening four of the six films directed by Yasujiro Ozu that feature one of the greatest living movie stars of all time, Setsuko Hara. Beginning her career in the 1930s at the dawn of the Japanese talking picture, in 1953 she played the faithful "Noriko" in Tokyo Story, and she retired ten years later after a career of more than 100 films. (Her reclusiveness in the 47 years since was an inspiration for the late Satoshi Kon's visually stunning animated film Millenium Actress).

The four Setsuko Hara films VIZ is bringing include one of Ozu's greatest masterpieces Late Spring from 1949, his 1951 Early Summer (parts 1 & 2 in the so-called "Noriko trilogy"), his atypcially noir-ish Tokyo Twilight from 1957, and my own favorite of his color films, Late Autumn, from which the above screen capture was taken. It plays this afternoon at 12:30, tomorrow at 6:00 PM, and Monday at 4:30.

An almost-equally tantalizing program of films by Kenji Mizoguchi, featuring his frequent leading lady Kinuyo Tanaka, happens at the VIZ later this month.


  1. For your sidebar -

    Italian Film Festival of Marin County (6 out of 7 Saturdays in October & November) -

    Poppy Jasper Short Film Festival in Morgan Hill -
    Schedule available at

    Also, unless you are aware of changes not reflected on their website, Late Autumn screens at 4:30 (not 4:00) on Monday at Viz Cinema.

  2. Thanks for keeping me honest, Dan! I fixed the mistake and added the festivals to my sidebar.

  3. I saw Late Autumn (at 12:15 PM) on Saturday so I knew the times you listed were suspect.

    Seeing Late Autumn, I can begin to understand Hara's self-imposed exile from films. Ozu's death may have been a significant contributing factor. However, having seen several of their collaborations, I think Hara did not age well. She was still an attractive woman in 1961 but having seen her in so many films as the selfless ingenue, it's difficult to see Hara approaching middle age and having adult children. In a sense, she was a victim of her own success. I'm sure Japanse audiences at the time typecast her since she was given the moniker of "The Eternal Virgin." The 40 year old Eternal Virgin is just as ridiculous now as it was in early 1960's.

    In Tokyo Twilight (just 3 years before Late Autumn), Hara was cast as a woman with a 21 or 22 year old younger sister. In Late Autumn, Hara is cast as the mother of a 24 or 25 year old. Her screen persona was aging rapidly. It would have been interesting to see what kind of roles she performed post-Ozu and as she aged.

    Do you think Setsuko Hara & Dorothy Lamour resemble each other?

  4. I'd say the Mizoguchi program is the more tantalizing one, since all the Ozus are on Criterion, whereas The Life of Oharu and Miss Oyu haven't had domestic releases.

  5. Nice comments guys, sorry its taken a while to respond!

    IA- I agree that the rare screenings of the Life of Oharu and Miss Oyu are made all the more exciting by their lack of availability on region 1 DVD. These are the two films in the Mizoguchi set I'm most desperate to catch; I've only ever seen the Life of Oharu on VHS, and the other not at all.

    However, as one who values Ozu a bit more than Mizoguchi, and the experience of watching celluloid with an audience vastly more than watching DVDs at home (especially for films with comedic attributes, as particularly Late Autumn does) I try not to let availability of a great film on DVD come into my decision whether or not to go to the cinema. It does affect it sometimes, of course. But my hope is that the effect is minimal.

    Dan, I do think that Hara does have more of that "Hollywood" look than most Japanese actresses of her generation, but I've never been able to put my finger on one that she resembles most to me. I know Joan Crawford and Katherine Hepburn have been frequent comparisons but I'm glad to get your own Dorothy Lamour reaction as well.

    As for her aging screen persona, I agree that it's hard to believe this did not play a role in her decision to quit films, although I also think Ozu makes excellent use of a variation on this persona in Late Autumn. I also find it interesting that her own stated reason for retirement, that she had never enjoyed acting and did it only to support her family, a fascinating reflection on her screen image as a selfless woman.