Setsuko Hara

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Michael Kerpan
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Re: Setsuko Hara

#26 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Dec 14, 2010 10:22 pm

ambrose wrote: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!.
Ozu seems to have preferred dogs to cats in his films. Offhand I can't recall any Ozu cats. ;~}

Naruse does have scenes featuring Hara and a mutt in Sudden Rain.

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#27 Post by knives » Tue Dec 14, 2010 10:27 pm

Guess now we know why Ozu is so much more popular than Naruse, or at least that's what Andy Griffith would say.

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#28 Post by ambrose » Sat Dec 18, 2010 4:12 pm

knives wrote:Guess now we know why Ozu is so much more popular than Naruse, or at least that's what Andy Griffith would say.
That pop-culture reference has gone straight over my head!

This almost nonchalant reference by David Ehrenstein to the sexual orientation of Setsuko Hara and its status as an open secret within a certain generation of Japanese society is both innately interesting and enriching as regards possible sub-textual interpretations of at least Late Spring And Early Summer!The symbiotic relationship that existed between Ozu and Miss Hara must (at least partly) have been formed by their respective sexual identities and the conflicting demands of society,or is that too simplistic.
Mike Grost wrote:Ozu's perennial subject is a family pressuring a grown son or daughter to marry, and the sadness and devastation this leaves in its wake. I have seen many different critical interpretations of this: that the kids are too "lazy" to take on adult responsibilities, that the parents are doing this out of a sense of "duty" or "sacrifice", that this is a universal experience of children leaving the parent's nest. I think all of these points of view are wrong, and are not supported by the films in question. Instead, I think these scenes should be given a different interpretation. First of all, Ozu seems to be a gay man, although nobody wants to say so. He was a man who was unmarried, and who never had an active relationship with a woman. He was expelled from boarding school as a teenager for writing a love letter to another male student. What Ozu seems to be criticizing in his films is the huge pressure society puts on people to marry, whatever their sexual orientation. Such pressure can be bad for some straight people who are temperamentally unsuited for marriage. But it is absolutely devastating to gay people who are pressured into marriage against their will. What we are seeing is Ozu's films is what the poet Adrienne Rich called "compulsory heterosexuality", the huge machine of social pressure put on everybody to lead a heterosexual life, whether they are suited to it or not.

The early part of many Ozu films shows how happy everyone is living as part of a family, with a parent-grown child relationship and friends. These scenes show a blissful, ecstatic happiness. They are an outpouring of pure joy, and a picture of paradise on earth. Then, part way through the picture, pressure starts on the grown child to marry. It comes from everybody: all the relatives and friends of the parent. It is relentless, and the machinery grinds on. The child is forced into marriage, something that at the end of the movie leads to the destruction of the happy family, as the child goes off to the new home, and painful sorrow and despair for both the parent and the child.

No one in the film speaks out against marriage as an institution. The child resists, but has no ideological weapons. All voices are raised in favor of marriage as a universal obligation. But the film never makes any transcendental moral argument in favor of marriage. It shows that it is socially demanded, but it never shows it benefiting anyone, or hurting anyone by its absence. No moral case for marriage is ever made in the film. It is merely unthinkingly accepted by everyone as the natural order of things, a universal obligation of nature. Ozu's films are not ambiguous on this point: they do not make the slightest case for marriage as a moral obligation. So critics are reading into Ozu's films when they use words like "duty" to describe the characters' actions. Critics who summarize an Ozu film as "the father steps aside so that the daughter can find happiness in marriage" are also seriously misreading the movie. While the father's friends might make such an argument to him in the film, the film itself does nothing to support it. The heroine clearly is not going off to a life of happiness, but to a total hell.
Possible homoerotic undertones in an early Ozu student comedy!
Dennis Grunes wrote:One of his earliest films, and the earliest one currently available, Yasujiro Ozu’s Gakusei romance: Wakaki hi is a silent slapstick comedy. Its joint protagonists are Watanabe and Yamamoto, college students who come to share a Tokyo apartment and who pursue the same flirtatious girl, Chieko. The film opens with a series of leftward pans of the urban environment, including a school football field in use; it ends with the same shots, but now rightward and in reverse order—a book-closing gesture that in effect leaves both boys with one another as neither “gets the girl.”
Indeed, their romantic rivalry apparently aims at drawing themselves closer together rather than apart, which would likely be the upshot if one had actually coupled with Chieko. On the wall is a poster of the Hollywood film Seventh Heaven (Frank Borzage, 1927) picturing the film’s romantic stars, Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell. One wonders if Ozu knew that both these stars were gay.
Ozu was in his mid-twenties when he made this film, nearly as young as his protagonists, and it is uncharacteristically full of sexual imagery. The one token heterosexual gesture consists of one of the boys dusting off snow from the seat of Chieko’s pants seat when all three are at a Taguchi ski resort following final exams; all other gestures and images are homoerotic. These include shots of the boys’ bare feet, considerable touching between them, one gorgeous shot from behind the boys as side-by-side they face a vast snowy landscape, one boy lying in the snow, stuck at the other’s mischievous hand, his skis perpendicular to the ground, which is to say, erect. One boy hilariously pursues a ski that the other has sent sailing down a slight decline. Poles of all kinds, smokestacks, a smoking chimney, both boys puffing on pipes: combinately, all this becomes a visual translation of Herman Melville’s phallic punning in the story “I and My Chimney.”
There is a bit of business that Ozu would repeat in the following year’s That Night’s Wife: a closeup of hands tying a shoelace with a double knot. It is a gesture in pursuit of control, an attempt to put a tight lid on things, an expression of anxiety.
In my twenty previous entries about Ozu films I have never addressed Ozu’s rumored sexual preference because it had never seemed relevant to the meaning or the character of the films. Here it does seem relevant.
Oh, by the way, on the train back to Tokyo the boys run into one of their professors, who reveals their final exam grades. Both flunked—which in effect means they hadn’t earned their post-exams vacation and weren’t entitled to pursue Chieko. A very funny comedy, this—and a disquieting one.
Last edited by ambrose on Sat Jun 11, 2011 4:36 pm, edited 9 times in total.

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#29 Post by whaleallright » Sat Dec 18, 2010 8:52 pm

I wouldn't advise that anyone take Ehrenstein on faith.

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#30 Post by ambrose » Sun Dec 19, 2010 2:07 pm

jonah.77 wrote:I wouldn't advise that anyone take Ehrenstein on faith.

As Jonah has failed to return and contextualize his remark about Mr.Ehrenstein, I wonder if anyone else on this forum might explain why he might be perceived as a contentious figure by some people. (The reason why I linked to comments made by him on a separate thread was out of a sense of trust in the validity of his observations when it comes to the subject-matter in hand.)

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#31 Post by Leo Wong » Sun Dec 19, 2010 2:37 pm

Here are two statements to reflect on:

"It isn't true, but it's true enough."

"It's true, but it isn't true enough."

Now consider whether your learning any supposed fact about an actor's sexuality enhances or diminishes your appreciation and understanding of the films he performs in. YMMV.

Here's an experiment to perform on yourself: Read Eric Bentley's Round One and Round Two, heterosexual and homosexual plays based on Schnitzler's Reigen (La Ronde). Do you like the first or the second play better, and why?
Last edited by Leo Wong on Sun Dec 19, 2010 5:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#32 Post by whaleallright » Sun Dec 19, 2010 3:31 pm

Hi there. I didn't reply because I didn't see your post until now. David Ehrenstein often writes about rumor and innuendo as if it were incontrovertible fact. He frequently "outs" public figures, past and present, without disclosing the bases for his conclusions.

I have no knowledge of Ms. Hara's private life (or that of Ozu) with which to counter his assertions, but given that human sexuality is a knotty thing in the simplest of cases, I'm generally skeptical about breezy assertions about the habits and self-identifications of public figures--or even fictional characters. No doubt these assertions often have more than a grain of truth; but they are also likely to be overconfident and reductive. A case in point is Ehrenstein's assertion that the character of Noriko in EARLY SUMMER is a lesbian; certainly there are some hints in that direction, but like much in Ozu's films, the handling is rather elliptical and finally ambiguous. At the very least, those who decide to believe the character is "lesbian" might acknowledge that there are suggestions to the contrary that others might latch onto. (Another problem with this form of argument is that assumes that "gay," "straight," "lesbian," etc. are natural and exclusive categories that exist in more or less the same form across cultures and historical periods.)

[Edit: Something odd is going on is this thread, or with my browser. Some posts above mine keep disappearing and reappearing. I apologize if any part of my message is unclear as a result.]
Last edited by whaleallright on Sun Dec 19, 2010 5:58 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#33 Post by Leo Wong » Sun Dec 19, 2010 4:59 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)
I once heard a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater refer to prima ballerinas as "cows." He ought to know, since he lifted them. Somehow, I don't see cows when I see a ballet. Nor do I see daikon (which I enjoy eating) when I see Setsuko Hara or Chishu Ryu.

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#34 Post by ambrose » Sun Dec 19, 2010 6:04 pm

jonah.77 wrote:Hi there. I didn't reply because I didn't see your post until now. David Ehrenstein often writes about rumor and innuendo as if it were incontrovertible fact. He frequently "outs" public figures, past and present, without disclosing the bases for his conclusions.

I have no knowledge of Ms. Hara's private life (or that of Ozu) with which to counter his assertions, but given that human sexuality is a knotty thing in the simplest of cases, I'm generally skeptical about breezy assertions about the habits and self-identifications of public figures--or even fictional characters. No doubt these assertions often have more than a grain of truth; but they are also likely to be overconfident and reductive. A case in point is Ehrenstein's assertion that the character of Noriko in EARLY SUMMER is a lesbian; certainly there are some hints in that direction, but like much in Ozu's films, the handling is rather elliptical and finally ambiguous. At the very least, those who decide to believe the character is "lesbian" might acknowledge that there are suggestions to the contrary that others might latch onto. (Another problem with this form of argument is that assumes that "gay," "straight," "lesbian," etc. are natural and exclusive categories that exist in more or less the same form across cultures and historical periods.)

[Edit: Something odd is going on is this thread, or with my browser. Some posts above mine keep disappearing and reappearing. I apologize if any part of my message is unclear as a result.]

Your message is perfectly clear Jonah as well as well-reasoned and nuanced.

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#35 Post by Mr Sausage » Sun Dec 19, 2010 8:39 pm

Jonah wrote:[Edit: Something odd is going on is this thread, or with my browser. Some posts above mine keep disappearing and reappearing. I apologize if any part of my message is unclear as a result.
It's not a problem with the forum or your browser. That happens because probationary members must get approval not only for their first five posts, but any subsequent edits to those posts. If they make an edit to a post it disappears until a mod approves it.

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#36 Post by justeleblanc » Mon Dec 20, 2010 1:30 am

I'd like to second any skepticism towards Ehrenstein's readings of films or of reality. He seems to stem from a generation of critics who had a very romantic view of film history and would often cheat their interpretations in order to privilege a more dramatic story. He was once active in this forum, and some may remember his pugnacious attitude toward either defending his interpretations, or acting like a know-it-all when it came to film history. This is not to say that his claims were always unfounded, but he had a personal agenda and I think this often diluted what he had to offer.

Does anyone know if he was officially kicked off the forum for inciting too many fights, or did he leave on his own volition?

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#37 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon Dec 20, 2010 1:44 am

He was never kicked off the forum.

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#38 Post by ambrose » Mon Dec 20, 2010 7:51 am

justeleblanc wrote:I'd like to second any skepticism towards Ehrenstein's readings of films or of reality. He seems to stem from a generation of critics who had a very romantic view of film history and would often cheat their interpretations in order to privilege a more dramatic story. He was once active in this forum, and some may remember his pugnacious attitude toward either defending his interpretations, or acting like a know-it-all when it came to film history. This is not to say that his claims were always unfounded, but he had a personal agenda and I think this often diluted what he had to offer.

So your belief is that David Ehrenstein is more representative of the civil-rights agenda of the 1960s(which included sexual equality and the self determination and promotion of what were then considered alternative lifestyles) than more modern streams of thought?
Last edited by ambrose on Sun Jan 09, 2011 6:31 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#39 Post by MurderousInk » Mon Dec 20, 2010 10:13 am

As a Japanese, I felt I must chime in to share some views on the subjects discussed here.

About the sexuality or orientation about Setsuko Hara and Ozu. First of all, I could not find, or ever read any accounts concerning Hara's (or Aida's) lesbian leanings. As for Ozu's incident about "a letter to a young boy", when he was a student, there were many accounts relating that. "Ozu Yasujiro 40 Q&A" by Sho Kida, and "The Art of Yasujiro Ozu" by Tadao Sato mention the incident, but both assert that it was a fad in boys school at the time, and nothing really serious. In fact, it seems he was one of many students who was grounded for such a behavior in the school at the time.

I agree with jonah.77's statement ("Another problem with this form of argument is that assumes that "gay," "straight," "lesbian," etc. are natural and exclusive categories that exist in more or less the same form across cultures and historical periods."), and I must say reading Noriko in EARLY SUMMER as a lesbian is stretching too far. Back in 50's and 60's, many ladies in Japan would say things like that and behave like that. They walk in hand in hand, they share diaries and behave like lovers in modern eyes. I saw many scenes in shows and movies from that era, which can be overly "gay" in today's standards and I cannot help but blush. Japanese girls today would see it quite odd. But they were not meant to be. You know, it has been a quite long time ago.

The discussion of "Daikon" actors is very interesting. The appreciation of actor's skill is very subject matter, and many Japanese might disagree with me, but I think the term "Daikon" seem to imply an actor/actress who always plays himself/herself. He/She is a bad actor but sometimes still charming or unique. I heard many older generation in Japan referring John Wayne as a Daikon (and they liked him). I think Ryu Chishu is Daikon, his delivery of speech being very stiff, but it gives a very tranquil atmosphere around him.

The most interesting is the two versions of Ozu's Floating Weeds. Kihachi/Komajuro is supposed to be an epitome of Daikon actor. In silent version, Takeshi Sakamoto gives the outstanding performance as Kihachi, and his troops are a bunch of lovable Daikons. But in 1959 version, Ganjiro Nakamura being such a good, classy Kabuki actor, his Komajuro is too good to be a leader in this downtrodden theater troop.

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#40 Post by justeleblanc » Mon Dec 20, 2010 12:37 pm

ambrose wrote:
justeleblanc wrote:I'd like to second any skepticism towards Ehrenstein's readings of films or of reality. He seems to stem from a generation of critics who had a very romantic view of film history and would often cheat their interpretations in order to privilege a more dramatic story. He was once active in this forum, and some may remember his pugnacious attitude toward either defending his interpretations, or acting like a know-it-all when it came to film history. This is not to say that his claims were always unfounded, but he had a personal agenda and I think this often diluted what he had to offer.

So your belief is that David Ehrenstein is more representative of the civil-rights agenda of the 1960s(which included sexual equality and the self determination and promotion of what were then considered alternative lifestyles) then more modern streams of thought?.
No, he's representative of critics who romanticized film history in general, and would mis-represent evidence in order to create a more dramatic narrative. Kevin Brownlow, P. Adams Sitney, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Jay Leyda, they would all fit into this group one way or another. Ehrenstein's position was that important films were more politically active than others. This also carries over to theater, where he tried to suggest that Sondheim's musicals in the 70s were important due to their anti heterosexual marriage agenda and that they were way ahead of their time. I have no problem with someone believing that this is true, but it's a reading of history that's somewhat romanticized and, given how many others share this opinion, also somewhat idiosyncratic. It would seem that his take that Setsuko Hara was subtextually a Lesbian seems to further reflect his greater narrative, for it makes the film more politically active according to contemporary American standards.

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#41 Post by perkizitore » Mon Dec 20, 2010 2:14 pm

Which is the last interview that she ever gave and do any recent pictures of her exist?

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#42 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Dec 20, 2010 3:27 pm

perkizitore wrote:Which is the last interview that she ever gave and do any recent pictures of her exist?
Hara did an interview or two right after she announced her imminent retirement. No interviews or pictures after 1963 (except maybe a shot or two by the Japanese equivalent of paparazzi, none of which I've ever seen (or wished to see).

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#43 Post by ambrose » Tue Dec 21, 2010 11:48 am

perkizitore wrote:Which is the last interview that she ever gave and do any recent pictures of her exist?
There is this seemingly "official" photograph taken on her 90th birthday!

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#44 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Dec 21, 2010 1:19 pm

perkizitore wrote:There is this seemingly "official" photograph taken on her 90th birthday!
I wonder who released this?

Anyway, she still seems to have "that smile". ;~}

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#45 Post by ambrose » Tue Dec 28, 2010 1:53 am

Excuse me Mr.Kerpan but I provided the link to that photograph not Perkizitore (it was in response to part of his inquiry) as for who released it into the public-domain, that would be the Japanese press!

While the fact that Setsuko Hara was a leading actress in the "Spiritist" genre (propaganda/spiritual struggle) during the Pacific war is not really that contentious an issue,the fact that in one of these films (Naval Brigade/Kumagai) she depicts an uncomprehending young Chinese activist who just simply refuses to believe in the humanitarian intentions of the Japanese army is both very funny and quite disturbing! Her other roles in this genre were far more archetypal though still somewhat strident (A combination of fierce patriotism and womanly sympathy).
Last edited by ambrose on Sat Jun 11, 2011 6:00 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#46 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Dec 28, 2010 1:06 pm

Hara apparently played a positively unhinged fanatic in one of her WW2 films (and this was supposed to be a good thing, in the context of the film). Her Chinese peasant girl performance (Shanghai Marine Detachment) was pretty dreadful. Not sure whether other major actresses played such key roles in some of the most strident wartime propaganda films. In the post-war era, she was militantly anti-union.

One really needs to look at her as an artist -- and try not to think too hard about her political history.

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#47 Post by ambrose » Fri Jan 07, 2011 11:00 am

Michael Kerpan wrote:Hara apparently played a positively unhinged fanatic in one of her WW2 films (and this was supposed to be a good thing, in the context of the film). Her Chinese peasant girl performance (Shanghai Marine Detachment) was pretty dreadful. Not sure whether other major actresses played such key roles in some of the most strident wartime propaganda films.

Peter B. High on the confused standards of beauty within the films of the Pacific war years and their relationship with the propaganda films of the time.
Western standards of beauty had been adopted for the selection of actors and actresses from a very early period in Japanese cinema.There is no clear evidence that a new, more Japanese standard was ever clearly defined,even during the pacific war years. Uehara Ken,Takamine Hideko, and Kogure Michiyo all continued to be prominent in the industry,despite their rather occidental looks. On the other hand,one could contend that Hara Setsuko and Fujita Susumu were the preferred choices for roles in the war time morale booster because they were perceived as more "traditionally Japanese-looking".
Setsuko Hara and her directors. The relish of disgust
Last edited by ambrose on Fri Jan 28, 2011 2:00 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#48 Post by Leo Wong » Sun Jan 30, 2011 4:19 pm

Comment to Analysis of "There Was A Father", Vermillion and One Nights:
According to Chishu Ryu, Shuji Sano was the favorite of Ozu. However, it did not mean Ryu and Sano were the “first take” actors, e.g. the actors whom Ozu was satisfied with the first take. They seemed to have enjoyed more than tens of retakes before Ozu finally said OK. On the other hand, Hara was the first take actress. Another first take actor was Shin Saburi. Interesting, isn't it?

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Re: Setsuko Hara

#49 Post by ambrose » Fri Feb 11, 2011 1:06 pm

Leo Wong wrote:Comment to Analysis of "There Was A Father", Vermillion and One Nights:
According to Chishu Ryu, Shuji Sano was the favorite of Ozu. However, it did not mean Ryu and Sano were the “first take” actors, e.g. the actors whom Ozu was satisfied with the first take. They seemed to have enjoyed more than tens of retakes before Ozu finally said OK. On the other hand, Hara was the first take actress. Another first take actor was Shin Saburi. Interesting, isn't it?
While that quote might be applicable to Miss.Hara's work with Ozu,(who extensively coached each actor prior to any individual sequence) I do not think that it would have been possible for her to have adopted the same approach with Naruse Mikio,a director who always insisted on multiple mind-numbing takes (The effect achieved by these takes appears to be a performance style not-too dissimilar to that of a Bresson "model").
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Re: Setsuko Hara

#50 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Feb 11, 2011 3:29 pm

Ozu seems to have been very flexible in the way he worked with individual actors -- using whatever method he felt was most likely to get the sort of performance he wanted.

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