Iconic Japanese actress Setsuko Hara died of pneumonia at age 95 on September 5, but the world didn’t know until her family reported her death to the press a few days ago, fitting for a woman who abruptly ended her career at age 42 and secluded herself in the seaside town of Kamakura.
Born Masae Aida in 1920, Hara starred in wartime propaganda films as a teenager before working with celebrated directors Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu. A star of the golden age of Japanese cinema, Hara portrayed characters ranging from the independent “new” Japanese woman to the long-suffering, dutiful Japanese woman. Her roles earned her the nickname “eternal virgin,” or perhaps it was her personal life. She never married nor had children.
Coincidently, IFC Center is screening Ozu’s 1953 masterpiece Tokyo Story this weekend, with two more screenings at 11:00 a.m. on both Saturday, November 28 and Sunday, November 29. In Tokyo Story the widowed Noriko, played by Hara, shares a special relationship with her in-laws.
Earlier this year Japan Society screened several Hara films during the 2015 Globus Film Series The Most Beautiful: The War Films of Shirley Yamaguchi & Setsuko Hara, part of its Stories from the War series, marking the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII.