best film: Yasujirô Ozu made at least four masterpieces and Setsuko Hara was in all four of them (Late Spring, Early Summer, Tokyo Story and not to confuse things with the names, The End of Summer), so this is no slam dunk. Tokyo Story ultimately comes out on top as it lands as one of the top ten of all-time. This film is rightfully taught in just about every introduction to cinema art college class (though the focus is way too often on Ozu’s humanity- and not the artistic aspects of the film). Tokyo Story is the artistic peak for Ozu and his trademark visual style- but it is really more of the same when someone studies his rich body of work. Tokyo Story is not some sort of big breakthrough one off, nor a big departure for Ozu by any stretch from his previous (or subsequent) films. There are actually a number of shots in Tokyo Story that emulate similar shots in previous films (including that shot of Chishû Ryu meditating alone in the finale). Though, where another film of his is filled with 10-25 of these gorgeous mise-en-scene shots and setups… Tokyo Story has 50-100. It is impossible to keep count of all of these frames unless that is all somebody would want to do when watching the film. Tokyo Story is a candidate for the greatest mise-en-scene in film history. Ozu has a way of funneling the frame so to speak- he has objects and walls that not only take up all the white space (teapots, clocks, slippers, flowers, bicycles laundry, lighting those shoji doors) but directs the viewer’s eyes by creating frames within a frame, division and blocking of the mise-en-scene a la Josef von Sternberg (though, with all due respect, this dwarfs anything von Sternberg ever made).
best performance: Hara’s best single performance is either 1949’s Late Spring or 1951’s Early Summer. These are films are first and second chronologically in The Noriko Trilogy. Tokyo Story is the third leg of this trilogy, and the three films were each made two years apart, (Tokyo Story coming in 1953). All three films are masterpieces. The edge, ever so slightly, probably goes to Early Summer as far as Hara’s work is concerned. Ryu is in a smaller role in this one- and Hara really gets the showcase role playing Noriko Mamiya. Hara’s character getting married, and the family’s preoccupation with that, is the closest Ozu gets to a plot here. Hara, always the dutiful (but pained) woman, is heartbreaking in the scene where she accepts the marriage proposal from her future mother-in-law. This understated style (though not quite as blank as Dreyer’s models) is the essence of Ozu’s methodology- and exactly what he wanted from his players.
stylistic innovations/traits: Hara was around long before her first collaboration with Ozu (1949’s Late Spring– and it may be no surprise Ozu did his best work with Hara). She was a child actor making films before World War II in her early teens in the 1930s. In all, she has over 100+ film acting credits to her name including collaborations with Kurosawa- her first in the archives- even before working with Ozu. She was done, retired, in 1962 at the age of 42 when Ozu stopped making films- he passed away in 1963. It is hard to even picture Hara, known as “the eternal virgin” for playing such gentle characters, working into the late 1960s and 1970s when film censorship changed. The End of Summer (Ozu’s second to last film overall and last collaboration with Hara- and one of his absolute best) marked the end of their partnership so it stands to reason if he had lived another few years that Hara could easily be top even higher on this list. She and Ozu (and Ozu’s writing collaborator Kôgo Noda) carved out such specific characters together – often the loyal family member. She was almost always smiling on the outside- but there is often a layer of pain underneath her character- and that can be felt. That is a compliment to Hara’s skill as a subtle actor.
directors worked with: Yasujirô Ozu (6) and Akira Kurosawa (2). Not many actors worked with both of the two great Japanese masters (and contemporaries). She is Ozu’s greatest female acting muse/collaborator—just like Chishû Ryu is Ozu’s greatest male acting collaborator.
top five performances:
- Early Summer
- Late Spring
- The End of Summer
- Tokyo Story
- Late Autumn
|1946- No Regrets For Our Youth|
|1949- Late Spring|
|1951- Early Summer|
|1951- The Idiot|
|1953- Tokyo Story|
|1954- Sound of the Mountain|
|1957- Tokyo Twilight|
|1960- Late Autumn|
|1961- The End of Summer|
YESSSS. Thankyou drake. I thought shed be higher but still happy to see this addition.
Is Kinuyo Tanaka on your radar. I think she deserves to be on this list. Look at her top 3
1. The Life Of Oharu
2. A Hen In The Wind
3. The Ballad of Narayama
@M*A*S*H- Thanks for sending. Yes, definitely on my radar- a great actor.
“Hara, always the dutiful (but pained) woman, is heartbreaking in the scene where she accepts the marriage proposal from her future mother-in-law. This understated style (though not quite as blank as Dreyer’s models) is the essence of Ozu’s methodology- and exactly what he wanted from his players.”
From her Wiki page:
“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 Ozu, or the possibility of failing eyesight. Hara was an avid smoker and drinker”
Seems like art imitating life
@James Trapp – Very interesting. Avid smoker and drinker? haha. man- I never would have guessed.
@Drake – yeah, same then again I’m surprised when I read that Ozu himself was a legendary drinker. That Hara quit acting right after Ozu’s death is probably not a coincidence even if you had a tons of acting credits before working with him.
@Malith- thank you for the cleanup help
Would’ve put her a bit higher, but that doesn’t matter anyways, it’s just a divergence of opinions. I’m a big fan of her in the very underrated NO REGRETS FOR OUR YOUTH, one of Kurosawa’s best IMO.
@Gabriel Paes- Thanks for the feedback and of course for coming to the site and commenting here. Like most of the actors on the list, I see both sides of the argument for and against Hara.
@Harry- Invaluable- thank you for the clean up help here