Friday, June 25, 2010

Japan's Greta Garbo, Setsuko Hara turns 90

by Chris MaGee

A very important milestone nearly slipped under our radar last week, so we definitely wanted to make a point to mention it this week. On June 17th Masae Aida celebrated her 90th birthday. "Who's Masae Aida?" you might be asking. Well, you probably know her better as Setsuko Hara. Hara was the star of such Golden Age Japanese classics as Akira Kurosawa's "No Regrets for Our Youth", Kozaburo Yoshimura's "A Ball at the Anjo House" and of course a slew of Yasujiro Ozu's films including "Late Spring", "Early Summer" and "Tokyo Story". Her gentle presence and stunning beauty runs through the Japanese film history from the 1930's when she started out in propaganda films until the early 60's and her final film, Hiroshi Inagaki's "Chushingura: 47 Samurai". It was what happened after that film that has made Hara a legend though.

In 1963 she called a press conference during which she graciously, but suddenly retired not only from acting, but from public life as well. Her reason for retiring? Basically, she never really loved acting and had basically made movies as a way to help support her family. At that point, at the age of 43, she had simply had enough. From that point on she lived a quiet life in Kamakura, the location of many of Yasujiro Ozu's films. She reverted to her birth name, Masae Aida, and refused all requests from the media for interviews or photo ops. In Japan this sudden disappearance from public life preserved Hara as Japanese film's "Eternal Virgin", an unaging image of Japan's Golden Age films, while in the West she has been compared to Greta Garbo, who also became a recluse in her later years.

47 years after she dropped out of acting and the film industry Hara still lives in Kamakura, and even though many members of Japan's media know where she lives they respect her wishes and let her lead her life as she wishes - quietly, privately and with dignity. All of us can (and do) remember the cinematic Setsuko Hara to this day though. And as a way to celebrate that legacy we leave you with scenes from one of Hara's, and Yasujiro Ozu's, greatest films, 1949's "Late Spring".

1 comment:

Dojinshi said...


My wife and I were just watching Late Spring last night. We were laughing because in the first half of the film, Hara's character Noriko reacts to anything said to her as though it were the most ridiculous thing imaginable. This is a lot like most of her characters in Ozu's other films. When I saw "No Regrets for Our Youth" and "The Idiot", I was stunned by the range of her acting.

We were in Kamakura two years ago and as we walked past a residential area near the place we stayed, I wondered where Setsuko Hara's home was...