Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Curtain Raiser: Japan Society presents The Most Beautiful: The War Films of Shirley Yamaguchi & Setsuko Hara

Toshiro Mifune and Shirley Yamaguchi in Akira Kurosawa's Scandal

This week: the eclectic and compelling work of two major stars of post-war Japanese cinema are spotlighted in the 2015 Globus Film Series, part of the Society-wide series Stories from the War. The work of actresses Shirley Yamaguchi and Setsuko Hara — both huge in Japan, nearly unknown in the West — chronicled the transformation of Japan from Axis nation through its defeat in World War II. The nine-film series begins on March 21 with China Nights (1940), the controversial film whose dramatically different endings for the Chinese and Japanese markets polarized the Chinese against Shirley Yamaguchi and contributed to her death sentence following the war.

Shirley Yamaguchi and Setsuko Hara

Other films in the series include Akira Kurosawa's 1946 anti-fascist drama No Regrets for Our Youth (with Setsuko Hara) and his 1950 satirical romance-comedy Scandal (with Yamaguchi); Setsuko Hara's break-out star piece in 1937's The New Earth — a film co-directed by Nazi film director Arnold Fanck and admired by Adolf Hitler and a propaganda score for the German/Japanese alliance; Samuel Fuller's gorgeous American but shot-in-Japan 1955 noir thriller House of Bamboo (with Yamaguchi); plus several more.

Shirley Yamaguchi in  Samuel Fuller's House of Bamboo

Also: Japanese film historian Inuhiko Yomota presents the lecture An Actress with a Thousand Names, covering Shirley Yamaguchi’s multi-faceted life and legacy.

Go east, film buffs, and immerse yourself in the worlds of the war films of Shirley Yamaguchi & Setsuko Hara.

Setsuko Hara in Late Spring

The Most Beautiful: The War Films of Shirley Yamaguchi & Setsuko Hara runs March 21-April 4 at the Japan Society in New York City; see the full schedule and details at the BAM website.

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