Setsuko Hara, who stared in many films by Yasujiro Ozu, passed away last year. I have never been a big fan of Ozu so I am not too familiar with Hara’s work. Most of the obituaries written about her focused on her postwar career with Ozu and her disappearance from public view soon after her death. In fact, though, she first became famous in the 1930s at the height of Japan’s empire. The Shin-Bungeiza theater has included two of these films as part of a retrospective of Hara’s films being held this month.
A New Earth is a strangely cosmopolitan film to come out of the Nazi Germany-Imperial Japan alliance. It was the first starting role for Hara, who visited Germany and met with Adolf Hitler to help promote the film. It is co-directed by the German director Arnold Fanck and the Japanese director Mansaku Itami, who disagreed on the meaning of the film and ended up releasing different films in their respective countries. It also stars the famous Japanese Hollywood actor Sessue Hayakawa, who moved to Europe in the 30s after failing to find parts with the rise of talkies, the implementation of the Hays production code which forbade onscreen interracial relationships, and rising anti-Japanese sentiment.
A New Earth is screening as part of a double feature with Priest of Darkness, a jidai-geki film directed by Sadao Yamanaka. He often worked with the left wing kabuki troupe Zenshin-za and for this film he cast actors from that troupe, as well. I am not sure how Setsuko Hara was cast in this film, but the Shin-Bungeiza has given us an interesting pair of films in this feature to think about the role of film and Setsuko Hara in the imperial era.
These films are screening on Friday, January 22nd. A New Earth is screening at 9:50, 13:30, 17:10, and 20:45 on Blu-ray while Priest of Darkness is screening at 11:50, 15:30, and 19:10 on 35 mm film.