Setsuko Hara

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ambrose
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Setsuko Hara

#1 Post by ambrose » Thu Oct 28, 2010 7:26 pm

I have always had an ambivalent relationship with setsuko hara and her "performance" style, with the ambiguous observation made by ozu as to her technical ability "every japanese actress can play the role of a prostitute to some extent.however, it is rare to find an actress who can play the role of a daughter from a good family" pointing to both her appeal and possible doubts about her range! (there is also the fact that ozu was very "hands on" with the direction of his actors and the overdetermined performances hara often gave for other filmmakers were quite distinct from her work for ozu)

(side-note) This extract from ozu's anti cinema by yoshida kiju might help explain the more "abstract" qualities (as well as the ozu "imposed" technique)that help to make miss hara so appealing "In the noh theater,the daughter notices the woman whom her father is said to be marrying. she sees them smiling at each other quietly. the extremely low angle shots of the daughter make her expression look unusual;it seems to deviate from her character in the film. she looks at her father,who sits next to her watching the play as if nothing has happened,and then she peeks at the woman,who is sitting some distance away. these shots usher in an unusual atmosphere in which the daughter appears to apprehensively gaze at the void.

The audience cannot help but pay particular attention to the close ups of her expression and notice the vivid physical details of the actress's face,such as her shining eyes, the line of her cheeks, the position of her lips,and the shape of her chin. at this point, the viewers are no longer looking at the daughter in the narrative or the actress who plays the character. through the details of the actress's body parts,they are capturing the extremely sensual appearance and rich physicality of a woman."

Image
Last edited by ambrose on Fri Oct 29, 2010 7:41 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Michael Kerpan
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Re: Setsuko Hara

#2 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Oct 29, 2010 10:36 am

Hara provided very fine performances for Naruse (esp. in Repast and Sound of the Mountain) and very interesting ones for Kurosawa (in No Regrets and Idiot). She even did a decent job (sort of channeling Rita Hayworth) as a bad girl in Oba's Typhoon Woman.

Even Ozu had Hara turn her so-called "typical" sort of Ozu role inside out in Tokyo Twilight and play a very different sort of role in Late Autumn.

Hara does come across as comparatively generic in her Kinoshita roles -- but perhaps Kinoshita was not such a talented director of performers as some of his peers. ;~}

While Hara did not have the range of Tanaka (who could do a great job in films that were otherwise negligible) or Takamine, she was far from a one-note performer.

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#3 Post by ambrose » Fri Oct 29, 2010 11:11 am

While she was definitely not a "one note" actress setsuko hara was a reactive actress, needing to work within very strictly defined parameters. her disaffected middle class housewife in repast was a fine performance(her strongest performance?) but the role itself was tightly focused! your observations about Tanaka are spot on but haruko sugimura is probably of equal stature and range. (and if she is not of equal stature,she should be.)

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#4 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Oct 29, 2010 11:36 am

Sugimura was a very different sort of actress -- with extensive stage experience (and a reputation to match). In contrast, Tanaka, like Hara and Takamine after her, started as a movie actress when young (though Takamine was the only true child star).

I admire Sugimura a lot -- but can't class her with the other three. Interestingly, she strikes me as very similar to Choko Iida (whose slot she filled in post-war Ozu). I think classic Japanese cinema may have been even richer in treasurable actresses than Hollywood of the same era.

Since Naruse was norious for NOT providing much explicit direction (beyond blocking and basic physical movements), Hara managed to come up with some of her best work even without the detailed coaching and management she got from Ozu. ;~}

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#5 Post by ambrose » Fri Oct 29, 2010 1:11 pm

Your right! Naruse was notoriously taciturn, but he did remove all "inessential" lines of dialogue to help his actors find the emotional core of a scene. (as well as employing a few other tricks to prompt certain reactions,in one case using a cat to provoke the right emotional response from his actress)

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#6 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Oct 29, 2010 2:28 pm

Perhaps Naruse was more a "zen" director than Ozu! ;~}

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#7 Post by ambrose » Sat Oct 30, 2010 2:38 pm

He might also have had a more complex sense of "mono no aware" mr kerpan.

Ozu's Angry Women
Last edited by ambrose on Fri Feb 11, 2011 3:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#8 Post by Michael Kerpan » Sat Oct 30, 2010 3:38 pm

ambrose wrote:Ozu's Angry Women
An excellent article. (I read it when it first appeared -- but it is worth re-reading). I have long contended that Ozu's films are far from placid. ;~} I would pick Tokyo Twilight as his angriest film, but Early Spring is not far behind. And one finds plenty of anger in the "serene" Late Spring (among others).

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#9 Post by HerrSchreck » Sat Oct 30, 2010 5:34 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:Sugimura was a very different sort of actress -- with extensive stage experience (and a reputation to match). In contrast, Tanaka, like Hara and Takamine after her, started as a movie actress when young (though Takamine was the only true child star).

I admire Sugimura a lot -- but can't class her with the other three. Interestingly, she strikes me as very similar to Choko Iida (whose slot she filled in post-war Ozu). I think classic Japanese cinema may have been even richer in treasurable actresses than Hollywood of the same era.
Disagree strenuously. Sugimura-- and this is all taste-driven of course-- for me was an absolutely magnificent actress in my book and every bit as accomplished as for example Hara and Takamine. Of course the west cherry-picks Japanese actors and directors according to their own set of aesthetic impulses (of course the reverse is true and is the case in any international cinematic give and take based on taste and study). Her work in Ozu's Noriko trilogy alone shows her potential for great variegation (the charmingly appreciative, self-effacing mother in Early Summer vs the irritating daughter-in in Tokyo Story)... not to mention her Naruse work i e Flowing, Late Chrysanthemums, the woman, despite her hugely forceful wellspring of natural charisma, was capable of pulling it back to express delicate nuance--as well as radiate an irritatingly needling nature, ill-willed roles that give off a kind of arrogant callousness, driven by total selfishness, that spangles the personality of everyone's classic Nasty Backstabbing Aunt... and yet she plays these roles with an underlying humanity that is extremely impressive (she never loses sight of the human qualities and zones of decency that inhabit even the meanest/most agressive of characters)-- that was every bit as impressive as Takamine and Hara.

I firmly believe that were the last two actresses not the natural beauties that they were, their acting skills alone-- a la Sugi-- would not have garnered them the amount of attention and legend that placed them at the top of the national-historical heap of Japanese actresses... whereas Sugimura, Japan's legendary Blanche DuBois, was posessed of generally a plain set of looks, and made her bones as a capital A actress through a long period of extensive roles on the stage, hard work night after night, with roles like One Woman's Life where she played the part of a character from the ages of 16 to 65.

Interestingly, as you perhaps already know Mike, it was Sugi that inspired Takamine to become an actress after seeing her in a scene from Little Island Springtime... in a scene (that must have been something like the drained, prison-crushed Emil Jannings acting his pre-discharge converstion with the prison warden in VARIETE entirely with his slumped back), seen only from the rear in the scene, Sugi plays a leprosy-afflicted character who is seen only from behind as the character hides her deformity. Apparently Takamine was so impressed with Sugi's ability to express a full range of emotion entirely with her back and shoulders, that she knew beyond all doubt after that point what she wanted to do in life.

The second I see her walk onscreen I'm good to go with a movie, and am in it for the long haul. Don't get me wrong, the other two are right up there with her in their own, very different ways, and for different reasons... but I do not believe Sugi was outclassed by the other two. Not by a slowpoke's mile!

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#10 Post by ambrose » Sat Oct 30, 2010 10:47 pm

An appreciative obituary of Haruko Sugimura that explores,in some detail, her theatre career (it also includes the Takamine anecdote relayed by Herrschreck)

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#11 Post by Michael Kerpan » Sat Oct 30, 2010 11:42 pm

Except for her unfortunate turn in Kwaidan, I've never uttered anything less than effusive praise for Sugimura. No argument against her magnificence (or IIda's for that matter) by me -- just that my top three only has three spots (and who gets them is purely a matter of taste -- and whim) . ;~}

Ultimately, however, one has to recognize there is no zero sum game when it comes to great Japanese actresses of the golden age. The wealth of talent is remarkable. One can love all the treasurable ladies of this era.

I would note that Takamine started her acting career around age 5 (if not earlier), and doesn't seem to have ever not acted after that point (until her retirement). Her movie career actually began several years before Sugimura's. Perhaps Takamine was having doubts about continuing her career around 1940 (the transition from a child star to a grown up one is probably always a hard job).

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#12 Post by ambrose » Tue Nov 02, 2010 2:26 am

For the past few days in response to Michael Kerpan's thumbnail description of a setsuko hara film called "Typhoon Woman"(which i will admit to having never previously heard about) I have been scouring the internet for either an in-depth analysis or a copy. I know this might be over-demanding but could someone provide me with some help?
Last edited by ambrose on Tue Mar 08, 2011 6:18 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#13 Post by Sanjuro » Tue Nov 02, 2010 8:23 am

Taifuken no Onna (Typhoon Woman) 1948

DVD with story synopsis (Japanese).

Quite a detailed synopsis there. Anyone with more time on their hands than me care to translate this?

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#14 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Nov 02, 2010 10:06 am

Here's my own mini-summary

Hara is the lover of a band of smugglers. They get into a run-in with authorities, and escape -- but with one gang member mortally wounded -- and they wind up in the middle of oceanic nowhere (presumably in the far south). Luckily they stumble upon a remote meteorological outpost. All goes well for a while, until the weather guys get an inkling who their guests are. At that point, the meteorologists are taken hostage. Then a major typhoon comes roaring up -- and the gang members find a supply of hooch -- and things get real tense.

I assume this was Hara's sexiset role ever. I certainly haven't read of any other parts she played that required the level of sultriness on display here.

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#15 Post by ambrose » Sun Nov 07, 2010 2:54 pm

I made an interesting discovery today, apparently bad actors in Japan were euphemistically referred to as Daikon's! (and that this appellation was applied to both Miss Hara and Chishu Ryu)

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#16 Post by Antares » Sun Nov 07, 2010 8:22 pm

ambrose wrote:I made an interesting discovery today, apparently bad actors in Japan were euphemistically referred to as Daikon's! (and that this appellation was applied to both Miss Hara and Chishu Ryu)
Don't you think it would have bolstered your statement more if you linked to the information you discovered, as opposed to a Wiki page on radishes? Nowhere on that page does it discuss Daikon as a euphemism for bad acting.

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#17 Post by ambrose » Mon Nov 08, 2010 7:23 am

Here is some much needed context Antares! (as well as an apology for failing to provide one yesterday.)

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#18 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Nov 16, 2010 1:06 pm

Health rumors

Apparently Hara began living in an assisted living facility (in Kamakura) back in 2005. More recently, she was transferred to a hospital in Tokyo. No reports have ever surfaced as to what medical problems she may have (other than her advanced age).

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#19 Post by ambrose » Wed Nov 17, 2010 2:44 am

Michael Kerpan wrote:Health rumors

Apparently Hara began living in an assisted living facility (in Kamakura) back in 2005. More recently, she was transferred to a hospital in Tokyo. No reports have ever surfaced as to what medical problems she may have (other than her advanced age).
Could you be slightly more specific as to how recent her hospitalization was? As for her medical problems they will almost certainly be age related illnesses which could really mean anything in terms of future life expectancy, though I personally can not see her surviving longer then a few months (My mother has been a qualified nurse since the early 1970s so I have some knowledge of the medical professions attitude and approach towards the very old and ailing).
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Re: Setsuko Hara

#20 Post by Michael Kerpan » Wed Nov 17, 2010 11:57 am

The only information I have on Hara indicates her hospital transfer was "recent". Sorry I don't have any additional information.

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#21 Post by fiddlesticks » Wed Nov 17, 2010 12:08 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:The only information I have on Hara indicates her hospital transfer was "recent". Sorry I don't have any additional information.
I'm kinda glad you don't have any additional information, since she has gone to such great lengths over the decades to safeguard her privacy.

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#22 Post by Michael Kerpan » Wed Nov 17, 2010 12:50 pm

Actually it is Masae AIDA who has gone to great lengths to protect her privacy. Aida permanently retired her Setsuko Hara persona in the early 60s (in a figurative sense Hara "died" way back then). But people understandably remain interested in the old lady who _was_ Setsuko Hara once upon a time.

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#23 Post by ambrose » Fri Nov 19, 2010 9:02 am

Michael Kerpan wrote:Actually it is Masae AIDA who has gone to great lengths to protect her privacy. Aida permanently retired her Setsuko Hara persona in the early 60s (in a figurative sense Hara "died" way back then). But people understandably remain interested in the old lady who _was_ Setsuko Hara once upon a time.
The fact that the medical information of a famously private individual like Miss Masae Aida has been disseminated into the public arena is not only indicative of the enduring fascination of her long retired acting persona (a fascination shared by myself despite my ambivalence) it is also somewhat suggestive of the lack of autonomy in old age! (I am sure she would not have wished this information in the public arena.)
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Re: Setsuko Hara

#24 Post by PillowRock » Fri Nov 19, 2010 2:54 pm

ambrose wrote:so i have some knowledge of the medical professions attitude and approach towards the very old and ailing.
Of course, such attitudes can vary quite a bit from one country / culture to another country / culture. (Think of how most Americans would react to the attitudes toward terminal illness expressed in Ikuru / 1950s Japan.)

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#25 Post by ambrose » Tue Dec 14, 2010 5:28 am

PillowRock wrote:
ambrose wrote:so i have some knowledge of the medical professions attitude and approach towards the very old and ailing.
Of course, such attitudes can vary quite a bit from one country / culture to another country / culture. (Think of how most Americans would react to the attitudes toward terminal illness expressed in Ikuru / 1950s Japan.)
The nondisclosure of any diagnosis of cancer in regards to the individual patient (a practice displayed by the doctors in Kurosawa's Ikiru) was an internationally recognized medical practice. As most forms of cancer were not only incurable but untreatable in the 1950s this nondisclosure was considered both humane and expedient! (I have just finished Yasunari Kawabata's Sound of the Mountain and while i am not usually prone to reductive comparisons between a film and its literary source, the fact that an impressionistic and interior study of one man's intimations of mortality(with the love for the daughter in law merely one aspect of that) was reduced to at least partly a star vehicle for Setsuko Hara* in Naruse's adaptation is still nonetheless quite interesting! sidenote: despite all of this the final scene of the film in Shinjuku Gardens is a mini modernist masterpiece and the most resonant moment in Naruse's oeuvre. Sound of the Mountain:The Beauty of Pessimism
This Senses of Cinema article is particularly good on that final scene!
*One aspect of the film which disturbs me is the discrepancy between the age of Kikuko the character in the original novel(early 20s) and Miss.Hara's age when she starred in the film adaptation (34).

A review of Repast from Wonders in The Dark that mentions in passing the semi-omnipotent presence of cat's in Naruse's oeuvre,without contextualising the use of the specific cat in Repast as a mechanism whereby a certain emotional response was elicited from a struggling Setsuko Hara!
Last edited by ambrose on Sun Jan 09, 2011 7:40 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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