Setsuko humble to the end

Japanese actress Setsuko Hara did not want a fuss to be made over her death

Japanese actress Setsuko Hara (left, with actor Chishu Ryu) rose to fame for her role in the iconic 1953 movie Tokyo Story, directed by Yasujiro Ozu.
Japanese actress Setsuko Hara (left, with actor Chishu Ryu) rose to fame for her role in the iconic 1953 movie Tokyo Story, directed by Yasujiro Ozu.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

TOKYO • Japanese actress Setsuko Hara, a star of Tokyo Story and a host of other post-war classic films, has died at age 95, the media reported yesterday, nearly three months after her death.

The news dominated Japanese front pages, with headlines lauding her as a legendary performer and the "Eternal Madonna".

Hara had been in hospital since mid-August and her death on Sept 5 from pneumonia was not immediately made public "as she wished no fuss be made", her 75-year-old nephew told Kyodo News agency.

A private funeral service was held, he added.

Hara, whose real name was Masae Aida, was born in Yokohama.

She made her debut as an actress in the 1930s, but rose to prominence after World War II working with film master Yasujiro Ozu, most notably on Tokyo Story.

In the 1953 film, a masterpiece of global cinema, she played a woman widowed by the war who treats the ageing parents of her late husband kindly during their visit to Tokyo, in contrast to their own children, who are too busy.

A poll of noted regional film-makers and international critics published last month at the Busan International Film Festival rated the drama as the best Asian film of all time.

In Ozu's Late Spring (1949) and Early Summer (1951), she played a modest and elegant woman in movies that tackled the issue of fraying family bonds as Japan's economy rapidly modernised.

She appeared in Akira Kurosawa's No Regrets For Our Youth (1946) and The Idiot (1951), the director's adaptation of the Dostoevsky novel.

She also acted in Tadashi Imai's The Green Mountains (1949) and Mikio Naruse's Repast (1951).

Hara - who reportedly never married and was known in Japan as the "Eternal Virgin" - abruptly withdrew from the movie industry at age 42 after her last film in 1962.

In retirement, she lived in a house near her relatives in Kamakura, a scenic seaside city south of Tokyo that once served as Japan's mediaeval capital.

She never explained her sudden departure from the industry, adding to the mystique surrounding her.

But in a rare interview with a newspaper in 1992, she played down her accomplishments as one of Japan's foremost actresses during what some herald as a golden age of cinema for the country.

"It was not just me who was shining," she told the top-selling Yomiuri Shimbun.

"At that time, everyone was shining."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 27, 2015, with the headline 'Setsuko humble to the end'. Print Edition | Subscribe