Friday, May 20, 2011

She Walks in Beauty

After the Keats, everyone will think of the Byron, so I give it to you here.
George Gordon Byron, Lord Byron. 1788–1824

She walks in Beauty

SHE walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that 's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

We can recognize on the face of Hara what Béla Balázs calls the polyphonic play of features, whereby a variety of feelings, passions and thoughts are synthesized in the play of features as an adequate expression of the multiplicity of the human soul. Ozu's treatment of Hara is especially remarkable because her physiognomic features tempt Japanese directors to take an opposite approach; that is, her large eyes and clear-cut features for a Japanese—compare her face, for instance, to the face of Tanaka Kinuyo—give directors a misleading cue that the best way to realize her talent is to make her overact rather than underact. — Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto, Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema, 2000, p. 192.

Kurosawa tries to use Hara's unique physiognomic features through overacting and exaggeration partly to destroy the fixed screen image of Hara as a young lady of good breeding. But instead of increasing the expressive possibilities of Hara's face, Kurosawa's strategy seems to suppress all those possibilities. To this extent, various critiques of Hara's performance in The Idiot are not completely unfounded. Yet what is important is that precisely because of the suprression of subtle expressivity, Hara's face is purified, and only a single emotional tone remains on her face. What appears on her face is the sense of noble sublimity that cannot be violated by any external forces. The uniqueness of Hara's performance can be clarified by comparing her to Kyo Machiko, who plays the role of the samurai's wife in Rashomon. Kyo Machiko can express as wide a range of feelings and emotions as Hara Setsuko, but there is a fundamental difference between the two as actresses. Even when she plays the role of a noblewoman, Kyo Machiko always has a touch of the common woman. What we see on the face of Kyo is the raw energy of a commoner who never gives up at a time of extreme adversity. In contrast, whether she plays the role of a commoner or a woman in a compromising situtation, Hara Setsuko's face expresses a nobility of spirit. What Hara brings to the rose of Nasu Taeko in The Idiot is this sense of spiritual nobility, which I believe is captured in the close-up images of her face, even though—or sometimes precisely because—her facial expression is strained and exaggerated. Hara Setsuko as an actress will probably not be remembered for her role in The Idiot. But the film The Idiot will remain unforgettable for, among other things, the performance and close-up face of Hara. — Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto, Ibid., p. 193.

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