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Happy 95th birthday, Setsuko Hara!

Setsuko Hara
It was exactly 95 years ago today, on June 17, 1920, that the legendary — indeed almost mythical — actress Setsuko Hara was born.

She is best known for her roles in six films by Yasujiro Ozu, but also appeared in two of Akira Kurosawa‘s films, No Regrets for Our Youth (1946) and The Idiot (1951), as well as numerous works by Mikio Naruse.

Japan’s “eternal virgin”, Hara never married and famously quit acting in 1963, the year Yasujiro Ozu died and at a time when her career was at its zenith. Hara (born Aida Masae) has since led a very private life in Kamakura, turning down all requests for interviews and refusing to make herself available for photographs.

Her total vanishing act has undoubtedly only solidified her legendary status while also keeping her eternally young in the eyes of the public. It should, however, in no way diminish the appreciation of the enormous talent, grace and presence that she brought to the silver screen.

As well as that beautiful smile, of course, which is celebrated in the YouTube video below.

Happy birthday, Setsuko Hara!




Its amazing that she has managed to keep herself so anonymous for so many years – I guess perhaps in Japan there is a deeper tradition in respecting privacy. It is refreshing though to know there are people who are not hungry for fame – no doubt she could have any amount of money and attention at any time in the last 60 years if she had chosen to.

I can never quite make my mind up about whether she was a great actress, or just someone with an enormous amount of quiet charisma which was used very well by certain directors. I understand she was not so highly rated by her peers, but there may well have been a certain amount of jealousy in that opinion. Ozu’s films are so naturalistic that its hard sometimes to tell sometimes whether we are seeing a ‘performance’ or someone just following the directors instruction. But I think in ‘No Regrets for our Youth’ she did show a real ability to act, its a very powerful and intelligent performance.

I must admit I do nurse a little fantasy that someone like Hirokazu Koreeda could persuade her to do one last film.


Vili Maunula

Ooh, a Koreeda film with Setsuko Hara would be as wonderful as it is improbable! He did of course work with Kyōko Kagawa on the lovely After Life, so why not.

Hara is great in No Regrets, and if you look at The Idiot with Kurosawa’s preference for strong theatrical performances in mind, Hara is excellent there as well. She really makes herself the centre of the story there.

I guess one could argue that Hara had more presence than she had talent, but I feel that she had so much of the former that it’s really difficult to judge how much she really had of the latter. Reminds me of someone like Robert Redford in that way. Both just suck you in and make you believe in them. And what else can you really ask for?

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