Updates, Live

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Setsuko Hara in a Kurosawa's Movie from 1946

Photo of Setsuko Hara from 1946
with her rōmaji signature
(source: Ernie K. in Mary and Leo)
no copyright infringement intended

I found this story in a blog that I came upon looking for more info on Setsuko Hara. It was 1946. Ernie K. was by that time in the Army and was touring Japan with a group of fellow G.I.s. One of the days they came in front of a film studio, it was by pure chance. A movie was shot inside. They waited for a break in the filming, and then Ernie, who spoke a bit of Japanese, as he had studied it at the University, started to talk to a young actress, who in turn knew a bit of English, as she had briefly visited the Hollywood before the war. Ernie was from L.A., the capital of the movie world, so there was a .little bit of what to talk about, and the discussion lasted ten minutes or so, with him trying his broken Japanese, to be answered in her little English. Eventually she did what actresses do in such occasions, she gave him a photo and signed it on the back. As she was very nice and very polite (the way she would remain for all her life), the signature was in rōmaji. The actress was Setsuko Hara, and the movie on the make was No Regrets for Our Youth (Waga seishun ni kuinashi). Director was Akira Kurosawa. So it goes!

No Regrets for Our Youth
clip of filming
(video by Leo Wong)

The movie was shot in black and white, and it is interesting that this clip of filming is in colors. I didn't have the chance to see the movie (neither did Ernie, by the way), so I could speak here based only on some very mixed reviews from the web. I found a very informative text on a blog dedicated to Japanese films, history and more (Vermillion and One Nights). I found then eighteen reviews on imdb, and some on Amazon. Then four reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.

The movie was following very loosely two political events from the Japan of the thirties and forties, building upon them a love story. It was the Kyoto University Incident from 1933 and then the Sorge Ring Incident from 1941. In 1933 a professor Takigawa had been expelled from the Kyoto University after lecturing about Tolstoy's Resurrection. That had been enough to be considered a Communist! The irony was that actually Takigawa was a staunched conservative and he manifested himself as such after the war, when he came again at the University. As for the Sorge Incident, the movie considered one of the ring members, the Japanese Hotzumi Ozaki, arrested in 1941 for espionage in favor of the Soviet Union. Eventually Ozaky was condemned to death and hanged, in 1944. The two events had no connection at all in reality, while in the film a young woman made the conjunction. She was the daughter of a University professor portrayed after Takigawa. And she also was the lover, then the wife, and then the widow of a radical anti-war activist portrayed after Ozaki. The young woman was played by Setsuko Hara.

Here is in short: Yukie, the spoiled daughter of Professor Yagihara, is courted by two students, Noge, an absolute idealist, and Itokara, an idealist having the sense of the relative; the militarist regime comes to power, Yagihara is expelled from University, Noge is briefly arrested, and Itokara decides to serve the new masters, eventually becoming a prosecutor; after some years Yukie meets Noge again and they become lovers; this doesn't last long, because Noge is arrested for being in a spy ring; he dies in prison and Yukie moves to the village of Noge's parents, where she works hard along them; with the end of the war, freedom is restored in the defeated Japan and the flowers blossom again (Claudio Carvalho).

Most of the reviewers criticized this movie for a too heavy political tone, a too linear, too Manichean approach. A movie with an obvious agenda. It was made in 1946 when an American censorship reigned supreme over the Japanese movie industry: the almighty SCAP (Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers), through its Civil Information and Education section, was severely censoring the films, not only eliminating any content considered inappropriate in the new epoch (Samurai films were simply no more allowed), more than that imposing what to say and how. The goal was to re-educate the Japanese public to the democratic values.

The list of banished topics was actually very long: any criticism of Allied countries and of SCAP itself, any form of Imperial propaganda (here were included the Samurai films), defense of war criminals, defense of any undemocratic regimes (i.e. regimes other than those from the Allied countries), any reference to the atomic bomb, any reference to the black market, any reference to eventual tensions between Allied countries (i.e. between US and Soviet Union) (wiki). No wonder then that  this movie was so politicized, it couldn't be other way.

For Kurosawa this was one of his first movies: he had made his debut as a director in 1943. As for Setsuko Hara, it was her 33rd film: she had started to play in 1935 at the age of fifteen. The great works of Kurosawa would begin in a couple of years: Drunken Angel in 1948, then Rashomon in 1950, and all that followed. Thus No Regrets for Our Youth should deserve a watch at least as a document about the beginnings of a great director, to find there in nuce the traits of his genius.

It's more than that. All reviewers agree that Setsuko Hara played here a great role, very different than the roles from the movies of Ozu.

We witness Yukie's personal development from a spoiled girl to a woman willing to risk incredible hardship to be independent.
(review of Gerard D. Launay) 

I could hardly believe the actress playing the mercurial Yukie would soon be playing the serene and self-effacing Noriko in Yasujirō Ozu's home drama classics such as Early Summer and Tokyo Story. Such was Setsuko Hara's versatility and malleability that she could move easily between Ozu's saintly goddess and Akira Kurosawa's passionate, reluctant heroine in this 1946 anti-war melodrama.
(review of Ed Uyeshima) 

Setusko Hara, known in Japan as the Eternal Virgin, is simply incredible in No Regrets for our Youth I am more accustomed to seeing her in Ozu's films, playing the light-hearted and affectionate daughter. Here, she shows incredible strength in body and spirit, finding her heart by hard labor in a farmer's field. Kurosawa obviously saw something in her that Ozu did not, and brought out a surprising side to the lovely and popular actress.
(review of Zack Davisson)

To say about Setsuko Hara that she was the Millennium Actress would be no exaggeration, and from all that I've read about this film, she showed  in No Regrets for Our Youth some sides of her amazing talent that haven't been used in most of her other movies. I wouldn't say in none of them, as she played also in The Idiot, in 1951. But that was directed also by Kurosawa!

(Yasujiro Ozu and Setsuko Hara)


Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home