Nationality: Japanese. Born: Masae Aida in Yokohama, 17 June 1920. Career: 1935—introduced to Nikkatsu studio by brother-inlaw, the director Hisatora Kumagai; 1936—chosen by Dr. Arnold Franck for Japanese-German co-production New Earth; 1949—first of series of films with director Ozu, Late Spring; 1963—retired from films upon death of Ozu.
Films as Actress:
Atarashiki tsuchi (Die Tochter des Samurai; Die Liebe der Mitzu; The New Earth) (Franck and Itami)
Denen Kokyogaku (Pastoral Symphony) (Yamamoto)
Boro no kesshitai (Suicide Troops of the Watchtower) (Imai)
Kessen no ozura e (Toward the Decisive Battle in the Sky) (Watanabe); Neppu (Hot Wind) (Yamamoto)
Hikaritokage (Light and Shadow); Waga koiseshi otome (The Girl I Loved) (Kinoshita); Waga seishun ni kui nashi (No Regrets for My Youth; No Regrets for Our Youth) (Kurosawa) (as Yukie); Midorino furusato (Green Native Country); Reijin (A Beauty)
Anjoke no butokai (A Ball at the Anjo House; The Ball of the Anjo Family) (Yoshimura); Onna dake no yuro (Ladies of the Night)
Katug nogenkai; Yuwaku (Temptation) (Yoshimura)
Banshun (Late Spring) (Ozu) (as Noriko, the daughter); Ojosan kampai (Here's to the Girls) (Kinoshita); Aoi sanmyaku (Blue Mountains) (Imai)
Hakuchi (The Idiot) (Kurosawa) (as Taeko Nasu); Bakushu (Early Summer) (Ozu) (as Noriko); Meshi (Repast) (Naruse) (as Michiyo Okamoto)
Tokyo monogatari (Tokyo Story) (Ozu) (as Noriko); Hakugy
Yama no oto (Sounds from the Mountains) (Naruse)
Shuu (Shower) (Naruse)
Chieko-sho (The Chieko Story) (Kumagai); Tokyo boshoku (Tokyo Twilight) (Ozu) (as Takako Numata); Joshu to tomoni (Women in Prison) (Hisamatsu)
Onnade arukoto (Women Unveiled) (Kawashima); Tokyo no kyujitsu (Holiday in Tokyo) (Yamamoto)
Onna-gokoru (Woman's Heart) (Maruyama); Fujinkai no himitsu (A Woman's Secret) (Yoshimura)
Robo no ishi (The Wayside Pebble) (Hisamatsu) (as Oren Aikawa); Kibo no aozora (Hope of Blue Sky) (Kurata); Musume tsuma haha (Daughters, Wives, and a Mother) (Naruse); Akibiyori (Late Autumn) (Ozu) (as Akiko Miwa, the mother); Fundoshi isha (The Country Doctor; Life of a Country Doctor) (Inagaki) (as Iku, his wife)
Bojo no hito (Love and Fascination) (Maruyama); Kohayagawake no aki (The End of Summer; Early Autumn; Last of Summer) (Ozu) (as Akiko)
Chushingura (Loyal 47 Ronin; 47 Samurai) (Inagaki) (as Riku); Musume to watashi (My Daughter and I) (Horikawa) (as Mari's mother)
On HARA: books—
Richie, Donald, Five Pictures of Yasujiro Ozu, Tokyo, 1962.
Sato, Tadao, Ozu Yasujiro no Geijutsu [The Art of Yasujiro Ozu], Tokyo, 1971.
Ozu Yasujiro to Shigoto [Yasujiro Ozu—The Man and His Work], edited by Jun Satomi and others, Tokyo, 1972.
Richie, Donald, Ozu, Berkeley, California, 1974.
Richie, Donald, Different People, New York, 1987.
Bordwell, David, Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema, Princeton, New Jersey, 1988.
On HARA: articles—
Harvey, Stephen, "Setsuko Hara," in Film Comment (New York), November/December 1974.
Gillett, J., "Setsuko Hara," in Film Dope (London), September 1981.
Masson, A., "Setsuko Hara," in Positif (Paris), May 1982.
Wood, Robin, "The 'Noriko' Trilogy," in cineAction (Toronto), Winter 1992.
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Although her career was prolific and her roles diverse, Setsuko Hara is known in the West primarily as a self-effacing character in six films of Yasujiro Ozu. Her range was far broader than the films made with Ozu would imply; her changes in behavior and appearance just within Kurosawa's No Regrets for Our Youth, for example, are astonishing. Nevertheless, Ozu captured the essence of her roles; feminine but strong, often traditional in dress but attracted to modern ways; part of a family unit but independent in spirit. For Ozu, Hara effectively embodies the complex position of modern Japan between its rich cultural heritage and its central role in the post-World War II global economy.
In Currents in Japanese Cinema Tadao Sato wrote, "Setsuko Hara had the image of a modern and intelligent woman, qualities that endeared her to Japanese audiences." (Comparisons to American stars such as Katharine Hepburn and Joan Crawford were common.) Perhaps her most representative role apart from her work with Ozu was as the persecuted widow in No Regrets for Our Youth, where, through her perseverance, she shows herself to be stalwart and indomitable. In many films she played characters who had careers or who were able to retain their own identities—and often to assert themselves—within the male-dominated society.
For Ozu, Setsuko Hara played a considerably more subtle version of the independent woman. In each of the six films she is without a husband, and her relationship with the family is predicated to a degree on their desire for her not to remain single. In Late Spring she is reluctant to marry and leave her widowed father; a decade later in Late Autumn Ozu cast her in the widowed role, as a mother whose daughter is similarly reluctant to leave home. In The End of Summer, Hara, again a widow, remains unmarried despite her family's concern. Choosing essentially to do what she wishes, she also advises her younger sister to marry for love rather than by arrangement. The independence never alienates her from her relatives. Indeed, Hara's characters are often the core of loving care within the family structure; in Tokyo Story, for example, Hara plays Noriko, a widowed daughter-in-law (again with no desire to remarry) whose affection for her husband's parents is greater than that of their own children. Hara's portrayal of Noriko (her role in three Ozu films, which critic Robin Wood has identified as a loose trilogy built around her) finally stands as one of the great portraits of human generosity and selflessness in world cinema.
Ozu captured Setsuko Hara in certain recurrent images. Most familiar is the enigmatic smile, often as she looks straight into the camera, in response to another character's solicitousness: in Tokyo Story, after a character asks her "Isn't life disappointing?," Hara's reply, "Yes, it is," is followed by just that smile, deepening the moment immeasurably. Ozu also contrasted her, particularly as she grew older, in formal, traditional kimono with another character wearing a dress (the younger sister in The End of Summer, the daughter in Late Autumn). That contrast is especially pointed during one scene in The End of Summer as the two sisters kneel by the water while discussing the differences in their lives. Although Ozu's films are commonly considered restrained, in the special moments when Hara's characters cry, after otherwise accepting all of life's misfortunes, the effect of emotional release for the audience can be devastating. For Ozu, Setsuko Hara must have been the perfect actress to play the genuinely loving daughter; it was only fitting that she chose to retire when he died, apparently also retiring her stage name to live in seclusion in Kamakura.
—Jerome Delamater, updated by Corey K. Creekmur