No other actor has ever mastered the art of the smile to the same extent as Setsuko Hara (1920–2015), a celebrated star and highly regarded idol who was one of the outstanding actors of 40s and 50s Japanese cinema. Her radiant smile floods whole scenes and at times cautiously undermines the expectations made of her in coy, ironic fashion. Yet her smile's impressive range also encompasses its darker shades: Hara's delicate, dignified, melancholy smile with which she responds to disappointments, papers over the emotions churning under the surface, and flanks life's sobering realizations. Her smiles don't just function as a condensed version of her ever-precise, expressive, yet understated acting ability, they also allow the very essence of the films they appear in to shine through for a brief moment, often studies of the everyday, post-war dramas which revolve around the break-up of family structures or the failure of marriages. Her performances tread a fine line between social expectation and personal desire in post-war Japan, as Hara attempts to lay claim to the autonomy of the female characters she plays – frequently with a smile.
Between 1935 – her brother-in-law helped her land her first role at the tender age of 15 – and 1962 Setsuko Hara acted in more than 100 films, of which those that emerged from her creative partnership with Yasujiro Ozu are the most well known, a collaboration which started with BANSHUN (Late Spring, 1949) and ended with KOHAYAGAWA KE NO AKI (Early Autumn, 1961). We are happy to present four films from this collaboration while also taking the series as an opportunity to broaden the view of this great actress, who died last September. We are thus showing her performances in films by Mikio Naruse, Keisuke Kinoshita, Akira Kurosawa, Kozaburo Yoshimura, and a German-Japanese co-production by Arnold Fanck, most of which are seldom screened in Germany.
Film’s ephemeral, eerie, and uncanny nature takes shape in the fleeting form of shadows, ghosts and doppelgangers, coherent and unstable in equal measure. Ghosts of history, cultures, and myths, shadows ranging from those cut out of paper to those created by moonlight, and the dark sides of protagonists often brought to light by the figure of the doppelganger all foretell the uncanny, the strange, and the unknown. In the darkness of the movie theater, we encounter the shudder as the original principle of cinema, just like how it plays with time, identities, perception, and disbelief, as we perhaps also sometimes feel something of our own shadows in these projected, imaginary images. This month’s Magical History Tour invites viewers to attend 17 very different encounters – with magical rites, restless ghosts, illusionary shadows, and doppelgangers on the loose.
The summer Tarkovsky retrospective is a tradition that has grown dear both to us and our audiences for more than 25 years now. In July and August, we are showing the seven feature films and one mid-length graduation film by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky (1932–1986), whose monumental oeuvre exerts a lasting fascination.
We are showing the film KATOK I SKRIPKA (The Steamroller and the Violin, USSR 1960), with which Tarkovsky graduated from the state film school, together with his last film OFFRET (The Sacrifice, Sweden, France 1986, 8.7. & 26.8.). KATOK I SKRIPKA shows one day in the life of the thoughtful Sasha, who prefers his violin to playing football, leading his schoolmates to mock him. A solitary, isolated island forms the setting for OFFRET: 50-year-old Alexander's birthday celebrations are in full swing when news of an atomic strike stops the party guests in their tracks. Tarkovsky's vision employs striking images and dialogue to connect a poetic film language with a philosophical religious discourse.