Setsuko Hara, Japanese Screen Legend, Dies at 95

Setsuko Hara - H 2015
Courtesy of Photofest

Setsuko Hara - H 2015

Best-known for Ozu's 'Tokyo Story,' the actress had been a recluse for more than four decades.

Japanese screen legend Setsuko Hara, most famous for her role in Yasujiro Ozu's classic Tokyo Story, died of pneumonia on Sept. 5. She was 95. 

The actress, born Masae Aida in Yokohama, had been a virtual recluse since her retirement in 1962, and news of her death only reached the public when her family made the announcement, as Japan's Kyodo News Agency reported Wednesday. 

Hara appeared in films by Tadashi Imai and Akira Kurosawa, but it was her roles in six Ozu productions that she is most remembered for. Among these, her most well-known and highly regarded performance was her portrayal of the grieving widow Noriko — the name of a number of her characters in Ozu's films — who takes care of her dead husband's parents in Tokyo Story (1953).  

From her debut in 1935 until her sudden, unexplained retirement in 1962, she appeared in more than 100 films.

These included The Daughter of the Samurai (New Earth), a German-Japanese co-production directed by Mansaku Itami and Arnold Fanck that was designed to strengthen ties between the soon-to-be wartime allies. The two directors agreed on little, and two different versions of the film were released, neither of which was well received. Hara also appeared in wartime propaganda productions.

Her last major role came in Hiroshi Inagaki's 1962 version of the classic samurai tale Ch?shingura (47 Ronin). She retired to live alone in Kamakura, a former Japanese capital about 30 miles from Tokyo, where a number of Ozu films had been set and the legendary director was buried.

Ignoring numerous offers to come out of retirement, Hara was rarely seen in public afterward, not even attending Ozu's funeral.