end of summer 1961


“Isn’t life disappointing?”
“Yes, it is.”

With the passing of Setsuko Hara (born June 17, 1920), as first reported earlier today (Hara died September 5 this year from pneumonia), cinema has lost one of the greatest actresses who has ever lived. Born Masae Aida in Yokohama, Hara emerged as one of Japan’s most luminous stars in her starring role in Akira Kurosawa’s No Regrets for Our Youth. But it would be her many collaborations with director Yasujirô Ozu which would earn her worldwide acclaim. Quiet, gifted with a welcoming, glowing smile and a seemingly natural presence on-screen, her most memorable characters were those who - despite insistences by elders, friends, and acquaintances - pursued their lives in the way her characters wished to do so. 

Following Ozu’s death in 1963, Hara stunned Japan by announcing her retirement. The announcement, in a nation where voluntary retirement from actors is nearly unheard of, was tantamount to scandal. But Hara maintained that she never truly enjoyed acting, saying that it was only a means to support her family. Hara lived the rest of her years in seclusion in Kamakura (where many of Ozu’s films were shot), never granting requests for interviews or photographs. With her passing, the writing of the greatest chapter of Japanese cinema nears its completion. Ten of the films she starred in appear above and are listed below (left-right, descending):

The Daughter of the Samurai (1937) - directed by Arnold Fanck and Mansaku Itami; also starring Ruth Eweler and Sessue Hayakawa

Priest of Darkness (1936) - directed by Sadao Yamanaka; also starring Chojuro Kawarasaki, Kanemon Nakamura, Shizue Yamagishi, and Daisuke Kato

No Regrets for Our Youth (1946) - directed by Akira Kurosawa; also starring Susumu Fujita, Denjirô Ôkôchi, Haruko Sugimura, Eiko Miyoshi, Kokuten Kôdô, Akitake Kôno

Late Spring (1949) - directed by Yasujirô Ozu; also starring Chishû Ryû, Haruko Sugimura, and Yumeji Tsukioka

The Idiot (1951) - directed by Akira Kurosawa; also starring Yoshiko Kuga, Toshirô Mifune, Masayuki Mori, Takashi Shimura, and Noriko Sengoku

Repast (1951) - directed by Mikio Naruse; also starring Ken Uehara, Yukiko Shimazaki, and Yoko Sugi

Early Summer (1951) - directed by Yasujirô Ozu; also starring Chishû Ryû, Chikage Awashima, Kuniko Miyake, Ichirô Sugai, Chieko Higashiyama, Haruko Sugimura, and Seiji Miyaguchi

Sound of the Mountain (1954) - directed by Mikio Naruse; also starring So Yamamura, Ken Uehara, and Yoko Sugi

The End of Summer (1961) - directed by Yasujirô Ozu; also starring Ganirô Nakamura, Minoru, Yoko Tsukasa, Michiyo Aratama, and Keiju Kobayashi

Tokyo Story (1953) - directed by Yasujirô Ozu; also starring Chishû Ryû, Chieko Higashiyama, Haruko Sugimura, So Yamamura, Kuniko Miyake, Kyôko Kagawa, Eijirô Tôno, and Nobuo Nakamura