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During her twenty-eight-year career, spanning the mids to early s, she appeared in over one hundred feature films. With large, expressive eyes and striking features, her unforgettable depictions of women from all stages of life, including daughters, wives, mothers and widows, came to embody idealized notions of Japanese femininity on the big screen for a generation.
The biographical narrative that grew up around her on-screen persona was reinforced by the fact that she frequently played similar but unrelated characters, often with the same name and with many repeat cast members. Although she is regularly described as the quintessential self-sacrificing Japanese woman, a large part of her appeal was due to her ability to convincingly express the conflicted emotions of societal pressures impinging on individual desires and independence.
Setsuko Hara. Following this, each film is discussed in detail, including a plot summary emphasizing the relevant gender issues and suggestions for classroom use. The early decades of the Meiji period — were characterized by rapid Westernization, including social and economic reforms designed to bring Japan into the modern world. However, this did not result in significant changes in the legal status of women. This adage, which increasingly emphasized the notion of women willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of the family, would intensify during the war years.
Poster for Late Spring. The postwar Constitution of , drafted under the authority of Occupation forces, guaranteed women a number of new rights, including the right to receive an equal education, own property, choose their own spouse, and even divorce. Because of these new rights, the influence of Western culture during the postwar period is often seen as the transformational factor in the liberation of women in modern Japan.
However, the early decades of the twentieth century are replete with challenges to the traditional image of the self-sacrificing wife and mother. Because of their financial independence and indulgence in the pleasures of fashion and city life, moga were perceived as selfish, frivolous, and even promiscuous. Late Spring: Reluctant Bride and Eternal Virgin In early postwar films, Hara is most frequently associated with her portrayals of young, single women reluctant to make the transition to marriage, an image that earned her the nickname of eien no shojo the eternal virgin.
Her desire to remain with her father, a man with no wife or male heir, highlights the ideal Confucian virtues of a traditional filial daughter, but her lack of interest in marriage puzzles those around her. Rather than accepting a traditional arranged marriage, Aya made her own choice and married for love.
She embraces Western culture, dressing in sophisticated modern clothes, living in a Western-style house, and expressing discomfort when she has to sit on tatami flooring. Now that her marriage has gone sour, she supports herself as a stenographer. Miwa, a widow who is being proposed as a match for him. Surprisingly, however, when she broaches the idea of getting a job and supporting herself, Aya insists that this is only a last resort for women with no husbands to support them.
Noriko has been offered a good match and would be better off getting married. Students of history and anthropology might want to begin by considering this contrast between the new legal rights available to women at the time and the ongoing influence of persisting patriarchal societal values. It is also worth questioning whether the fragile Noriko, with no work experience, really has any practical options for securing her future other than marriage.
Or could an arrangement based not on love or mutual attraction, but rather on similar social and economic backgrounds, be a better recipe for a successful union?
Eventually, Noriko is prodded into meeting the prospective groom. The meeting is not shown on-screen but seems to go well, as Noriko appears more cheerful and accepting about her upcoming marriage.
But on a final trip to Kyoto that Noriko and her father take just before the wedding, she makes one last appeal to be allowed to remain at home.
This touching moment between father and daughter — is another scene worthy of careful viewing and discussion. Students should be aware that critics have interpreted this scene in different ways. Source: Pinterest. Or is he trying to do what is best for Noriko given the options available to her? Following the wedding ceremony which is not shown , he confesses to Aya that he has no intention of remarrying, but told the lie in order to persuade Noriko to accept the match.
Do his means justify the end? Or should he have been honest with his daughter? Almost no details about his life are provided, aside from frequent references to his looking vaguely like the actor Gary Cooper. What might this suggest about the criteria for a successful marriage?
He is not simply arranging a husband for his daughter, but is legally passing her on to another family. Because of this, it is not possible for a woman to retain her maiden name after marriage, even today. As the peel drops to the floor, he simultaneously drops his head in reflection.
In , still at the height of her popularity, she abruptly announced her retirement. Rather than offering the usual polite pretense such as ill health or family troubles, Hara merely stated that she had never particularly enjoyed acting and had only done so to support her family.
Her decision, which stood in contrast to many of the idealized, self-sacrificing roles of women associated with her on-screen, sparked considerable criticism. Did she not have a duty to her many admiring fans? Hara never responded to the criticisms and also never married, instead choosing a reclusive lifestyle in her hometown of Kamakura the setting for Late Spring and regularly refusing all requests for interviews or information.
Tokyo Story: From Daughter to Daughter-In-Law The notion of marriage as a bond linking the new wife not simply to her husband but to his family is further explored in Tokyo Story. An English script of this film has also been published and is an excellent source for teachers wishing to focus on the text in more detail.
Poster for Tokyo Story. Source: Wikipedia. The audience is introduced to Shige, a middle-aged wife and mother running a hairdressing business out of her home. She continues with her daily schedule, leaving her parents to idle away their time in the living quarters upstairs. When her husband comes home with special cakes for them, she chides him for spending so much money, insisting that cheap crackers would be good enough, and then proceeds to eat the cakes herself.
Shige eventually calls Noriko to ask if she can take time off from her office job to spend a day with her in-laws, to which the latter willingly agrees. Following the tour, Noriko delights the couple by taking them back to her small, one-room apartment, where they observe a photo of their late son displayed in the room and interpret this as a sign of her ongoing loyalty to the Hirayama family.
Meanwhile, Noriko agrees to stay on in Onomichi a few more days, once again suggesting that she is more devoted to her in-laws than their own daughter. Following the departure of Shige and her brothers, Kyoko, single and still living in the family home, complains to Noriko about the selfishness of her older siblings — Surprisingly, Noriko defends Shige, explaining that as a wife and mother with her own concerns, she has naturally grown apart from her parents.
Noriko breaks down, confessing that she does not feel the loyalty that everyone in the family attributes to her, sometimes not even thinking of her husband for days. In these final scenes, the audience comes to realize that the characters of Shige and Noriko are much more complex than they originally appear. Although Noriko seems more devoted, the time spent with her in-laws might be relatively small inconveniences in her daily lifestyle as a single working woman without regular family responsibilities.
Examining the parallels between the struggles faced by Shige and Noriko with women of today may be another fruitful means of understanding these characters. The Legacy of Hara Setsuko Hara Setsuko has not appeared on-screen for over half a century, yet many of the conflicts her characters faced are still relevant today. Even in the twenty-first century, over half of young career women in Japan today still quit working after the birth of their first child.
Not only are basic services such as day care inadequate, but the long overtime hours expected of full-time salaried employees make it difficult if not impossible for a working mother to juggle motherhood and a career. By examining the tensions between gender expectations and individual desires in on-screen personas of Hara Setsuko, students can consider both the possibilities and limitations available to women in postwar Japan, as well as the legacy of these traditional societal pressures in the twenty-first century.
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The post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk story follows the young leader of a biker gang in a visually stunning future Tokyo, as he tries to save a friend who has acquired destructive telekinetic abilities.
Boasting a huge cult following around the world, Akira has gone on to influence numerous other films including Ghost in the Shell , The Matrix , and Inception Based on the novel by Koushun Takami, this dystopian thriller sees a group of Japanese students taken to a remote island and forced to fight each other by a totalitarian government. The bleak tone and bloody action is not for everyone, but Battle Royale also features some fascinating social commentary and great Japanese actors in key roles.
However, because of Japanese social taboos against people who deal with death, he faces prejudice from the community, including his own family. Departures has been widely acclaimed for the moving way it shows how death can bring out humanity and strengthen family bonds.
Godzilla Godzilla , Ishiro Honda A classic Japanese monster movie that needs little introduction, Godzilla is the first entry in the franchise recognized by Guinness World Records as the longest running in film history. However, Godzilla is now considered to be one of the most iconic monster films of all time, and has spawned an endless list of sequels, spin-offs, and remakes.
The story concerns a Japanese family who renovate an old inn in the hills near Mount Fuji. However, one by one their new guests end up dead for inexplicable reasons, leading the Katakuris to cover up the crisis to keep their new business open. If that sounds dark, rest assured that the determined family break out in a chipper clean-up song soon after the first body hits the floor. Cheerful tunes mix with reanimated zombies, strange dream scenes, and exploding volcanoes for the rest of the film.
Director Takashi Miike also made the celebrated Japanese horror film Audition , but you definitely need strong nerves if you plan to watch! Resnais was originally commissioned to make a short documentary about the event, but ending up crafting a feature story depicting an intense relationship between a Japanese man and French woman with post-war Hiroshima as a backdrop.
As it includes real footage of the ruined city and the victims, the film is a sometimes difficult watch, but is an important story about memory and forgetfulness well-told. House House , Nobuhiko Obayashi Much like Happiness of the Katakuris, House Hausu is an outrageous Japanese horror comedy that has gained a large cult following.
Gorgeously shot in psychedelic colors, the surreal parade of singing cats, possessed paintings, and flying disembodied heads may not scare you all that much but it will definitely leave you laughing and scratching your head. In , Ono opened Sukiyabashi Jiro, a humble seat restaurant in a Tokyo subway station.
Over 50 years later, the famous sushi bar attracts foodies from all over the globe, who must book a table months in advance, and has earned 3 Michelin Stars. The film is an engaging profile of Jiro and his family, and also features a score from Oscar-nominated composer Philip Glass.
This modern classic set in Tokyo follows Bob, an ageing actor, and Charlotte, a lonely young woman, as they form an unexpected connection while exploring the Japanese capital. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson give impressive performances and Tokyo looks incredible in the film, including the Shibuya Crossing and the chic bar in Shinjuku where the characters bond. The title character, Totoro, has become a cultural icon in Japan, and omnipresent on merchandise in the country.
The film tells the story of two little girls who meet the adorable monster against a gorgeously animated Japanese countryside, and go on a wild adventure on the magical Catbus.
The same animation studio was also responsible for the Oscar-winning Spirited Away , and while visiting Japan you can see some of their amazing creations at the Studio Ghibli museum in Mikata. Seven Samurai Seven Samurai , Akira Kurosawa Directed by legendary director Akira Kurosawa, this absolute classic of Japanese cinema explores a samurai conflict during the Sengoku period in Japan. Since debuting at the Sundance Film Festival, Tokyo Idols has gone on to be praised for providing insight into Japanese music culture among younger generations.
The film was so influential in Japan that you can still find a large number of ramen shops in the country named Tampopo, after the female protagonist. Tampopo expertly expresses the importance of food in Japanese culture in a comedic way, and will definitely leave you hungry for a bowl of noodles by the end. Your Name Your Name , Makoto Shinkai Although a live-action remake of Your Name set in the United States is already in production, fans of Japanese anime will definitely want to see the original first.
An animated romantic fantasy, Your Name is the story of two Japanese high-schoolers, Mitsuha and Taki, who inexplicably start to swap bodies. A huge commercial success in Japan, the film was praised for both its animation and emotional story, and Shinkai had another hit wih Weathering with You, released in
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In the film, Hyomin of girl group T-ara plays a South Korean exchange student who tries to get her uptight Japanese classmates to get their romantic game on. Filled with cute and melodramatic moments, Jinx!!! It also might provide an interesting sociological mirror to Japanese and Korean national characters.
This basically means teaching her Japanese friends to act more assertive. One day, Naho starts receiving letters from her future self, which starts shaping her interactions with friends and classmates.
With time travel, transfer students from Tokyo, and characters at risk of being hit by vehicles, Orange crafts familiar territory for those interested in a comfortable, escapist Japanese youth romances. When the premiered, it rose to 1 at the Japanese box office; perhaps many Japanese found it a familiar escape. By happenstance, Yuki bumps into and befriends Kaori. However, a week later, Kaori forgets him. Yuki discovers Kaori has a special form of amnesia through which memories of anyone other than her parents will get suppressed after a week.
Nevertheless, Yuki besolves to keep befriending Kaori over and over, week after week. You can probably figure out where things go from there! The story starts with a youthful romance, where two star-crossed lovers are brought together by… heart disease!
Our protagonists are Mayu and Takuma. As the grow older, feelings start to develop, and… well, what do you expect?
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The film contains many bittersweetly beautiful tearjerking moments. The film stars singer Miwa and model Kentaro Sakaguchi as college classmates named Aoi and Riku, respectively. The two play together in a band; whilst preparing for their last performance, Riku reveals that he has time travel powers. This revelation kicks off a whirlwind romance that may or may not have an expiry date. As you can probably tell, The th Love With You has pretty standard Japanese youth romance elements. If you want those elements presented in a dreamy, musical form — watch this movie.
The film centers around a college student named Makoto and his relationships with two girls: Shizuru and Miyuki. This might sound a bit like Norwegian Wood, but the two moves have rather different tones.
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Heavenly Forest takes a meditative view of romance, but presents it through the dimension of meaningful happiness rather than melancholy. Furthermore, Makoto is a photographer. The film follows Koharu and Ryota over seven years, tracing their gradual maturation. Together, the pair explore traumas and dreams on rather equal footing.
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Rather than expecting Ryota to only comfort her, Koharu strives to share her thoughts both dark and light. In a country where women often contend with entrenched gender expectationsOur Meal for Tomorrow offers a refreshing respite.
He wrote for 1, days before she passed away. Look no further than The Liar and His Lover. The film centers on a successful but reclusive musician named Aki Ogasawara, who uses music as a salve for depression. The last two films, both directed by Keishi Otomo, may well be more of the same. The film, which screened at the Chicago and Toronto film festivals to rave reviews, is based on an award-winning novel by Ryuzo Saki.
Daihachi Yoshida directs and Yo Oizimi stars as a canny editor and relentless corporate infighter. As usual with Imaizumi, who co-scripted, romantic complications proliferate with touches of humor, but real feelings emerge and real pain is felt by the characters. Release has been set for some time this spring. Many films for the second half of the year have yet to be officially announced, while details for others are still sketchy.
Release is set for some time this year. If nothing else, could mark a return to movie-making as usual. In line with COVID guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.