Setsuko Hara

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Setsuko Hara
Setsuko Hara smiling.jpg
Born Masae Aida
(1920-06-17)June 17, 1920
Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan
Died September 5, 2015(2015-09-05) (aged 95)
Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan
Nationality Japanese
Occupation Actress
Years active 1935–63
Notable work No Regrets for Our Youth, Late Spring, Early Summer, Tokyo Story
L. to R. :Kiyo Kuroda and Setsuko Hara in Atami (1936)
in Atarashiki Tsuchi (1937)
in No Regrets for Our Youth (1946)
in Late Spring (1949)
in Tokyo Story (1953)

Setsuko Hara (原節子 Hara Setsuko?, June 17, 1920 – September 5, 2015) was a Japanese actress. In the West, she is best known for her performances in Yasujirō Ozu's films Late Spring (1949) and Tokyo Story (1953),[1] although she had already appeared in 67 films before working with Ozu for the first time.[2]

Early career[edit]

Setsuko Hara was born Masae Aida (会田 昌江 Aida Masae?) in what is now Hodogaya-ku, Yokohama in a family with three sons and five daughters. Her elder sister was married to film director Hisatora Kumagai, which gave her an entry into the world of the cinema and she went to work for Nikkatsu Studios in Tamagawa, outside Tokyo, in 1935. Her debut was at the age of 15 in Do Not Hesitate Young Folks! (ためらふ勿れ若人よ tamerafu nakare wakōdo yo?)[3][4]

Hara came to prominence as an actress in the 1937 German-Japanese co-production Die Tochter des Samurai (The Daughter of the Samurai), known in Japan as Atarashiki Tsuchi (The New Earth), directed by Arnold Fanck and Mansaku Itami.[5] In the film, Hara plays a maiden who unsuccessfully attempts to immolate herself in a volcano. She continued to portray a tragic heroine in many of her films until the end of World War II.[6]

Post-war career[edit]

Hara starred in Akira Kurosawa’s first post-war film, No Regrets for Our Youth (1946).[7] She also worked with director Kimisaburo Yoshimura in A Ball at the Anjo House (1947) and Keisuke Kinoshita in Here’s to the Girls (1949). In all of these films, she was portrayed as the “new” Japanese woman, looking forward to a bright future. However, in most of her movies, especially those directed by Yasujirō Ozu and Mikio Naruse she plays the typical Japanese woman, either as daughter, wife, or mother.[1]

Hara’s first film (of six) with Yasujirō Ozu was Late Spring (1949), and their collaboration would last for the next twelve years. In Late Spring, she plays Noriko, a devoted daughter who prefers to stay at home and take care of her father than to marry, despite the urgings of her family members. In Early Summer (1951), she played an unrelated character also called Noriko who wanted to get married, and finding the courage to do so without her family’s approval. This was followed by Tokyo Story (1953), perhaps her (and Ozu's) best known film, in which she played a widow, also called Noriko whose husband was killed during the war, and her devotion to her dead husband worries her in-laws, who insist that she should move on and remarry.[5]

Hara's last major role was Riku, wife of Ōishi Yoshio, in the film Chushingura (1962).

Later years[edit]

Hara, who never married, is called "the Eternal Virgin" in Japan[1] and is a symbol of the golden era of Japanese cinema of the 1950s.[8] She quit acting in 1963 (the year Ozu died), and subsequently led a secluded life in Kamakura, where many of her films with Ozu were made, refusing all interviews and photographs.[1][9] For years, people would speculate about her reasons for leaving the public eye. Hara herself confessed during her final press conference that she never really enjoyed acting and was only using it as a means to support her family; however, many people continued to speculate over her possible romantic involvement with director Ozu, or the possibility that she had failing eyesight.[1]

After seeing a Setsuko Hara film, the novelist Shūsaku Endō wrote: "We would sigh or let out a great breath from the depths of our hearts, for what we felt was precisely this: Can it be possible that there is such a woman in this world?"[10]

After more than half a century of seclusion, Hara died of pneumonia at a hospital in Kanagawa prefecture, Japan, on September 5, 2015, at the age of 95. Her death was not reported by the media until November 25, 2015.[11][12] The anime film Millennium Actress (2001), directed by Satoshi Kon, is partly based on the life of Hara.[1]

Selected filmography[edit]


  • Weston, Mark. Giants of Japan: The Lives of Japan's Greatest Men and Women. Kodansha International. (2002) ISBN 1568363249
  • Yoshimoto, Mitsuhiro. Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema. Duke University Press. (2000) ISBN 0822325195


  1. ^ a b c d e f Abrams, Simon (April 1, 2011). "Setsuko Hara: The diva who left Japan wanting a lot more". Capital New York. Retrieved July 11, 2012. 
  2. ^ ja:原節子
  3. ^ "ためらふ勿れ若人よ" (in Japanese). Japanese Movie Database. 
  4. ^ "ためらふ勿れ若人よ". Japanese Cinema Database (in Japanese). Agency for Cultural Affairs. Retrieved May 9, 2013. 
  5. ^ a b "HARA, Setsuko". Film Reference. Retrieved July 11, 2012. 
  6. ^ Richie, Donald (April 1, 2011). "Ozu and Setsuko Hara". The Criterion Collection. 
  7. ^ Grimes, William (November 27, 2015), "Setsuko Hara, Japanese Star of Films by Ozu and Kurosawa, Is Dead at 95", The New York Times 
  8. ^ Erickson, Hal. "Setsuko Hara". Allmovie. [dead link]
  9. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (June 16, 2009). "The heart-wrenching performance of Setsuko Hara, Ozu's quiet muse". Retrieved July 11, 2012. 
  10. ^ Harris, David. "Rediscover: Late Spring". Spectrum Culture. Retrieved July 11, 2012. [dead link]
  11. ^ Acting legend Setsuko Hara of Ozu film "Tokyo Story" dies at 95
  12. ^ 原節子さん死去、日本映画黄金期を代表する女優 日刊スポーツ 2015年11月25日
  13. ^ High, Peter B. (2003). The Imperial Screen. Wisconsin Studies in Film. The University of Wisconsin Press. pp. 233–239. ISBN 0-299-18134-0. 
  14. ^ High, Peter B. (2003). The Imperial Screen. Wisconsin Studies in Film. The University of Wisconsin Press. pp. 239–246. ISBN 0-299-18134-0. 
  15. ^ High, Peter B. (2003). The Imperial Screen. Wisconsin Studies in Film. The University of Wisconsin Press. p. 251. ISBN 0-299-18134-0. 
  16. ^ High, Peter B. (2003). The Imperial Screen. Wisconsin Studies in Film. The University of Wisconsin Press. p. 415. ISBN 0-299-18134-0. 
  17. ^ High, Peter B. (2003). The Imperial Screen. Wisconsin Studies in Film. The University of Wisconsin Press. p. 440. ISBN 0-299-18134-0. 
  18. ^ High, Peter B. (2003). The Imperial Screen. Wisconsin Studies in Film. The University of Wisconsin Press. p. 323. ISBN 0-299-18134-0. 

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