It is with a hint of sadness but also an enormous amount of respect that I report the passing of Japanese screen legend Setsuko Hara (1920-2015). Hara died of pneumonia on September 5 but the news of her death was made public only today.
Hara, who turned 95 earlier this year was best known for her roles in six films by Yasujiro Ozu, including Tokyo Story which is often considered the greatest Japanese film ever made. Hara 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 and others.
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) had since led a very private life in Kamakura, turning down all requests for interviews and refusing to make herself available for photographs.
Hara’s total vanishing act undoubtedly only solidified her status as a screen legend, 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.