Over the years since her retirement, public anger, pique, and disappointment have all faded. Only a hard-core curiosity has remained. This, and a new admiration.
It now seems, particularly to younger women, that this actress truly reconciled her life. Truly, in that though she played all the social roles—daughter, wife, mother—she only played them in her films. They were inventions, these roles. They did not eclipse that individual self, our Setsuko. And in this way she exposed them for the fictions that they are.
She did not allow them to define her; rather, she defined herself. And she did this by setting up her own limitations, not those of her fictitious roles. Her real limitations are the self-determined ones of the little Kamakura house, the daily round, the visits from her women friends. Only within such chosen limits is the concept of any real self at all relevant.
And so Setsuko Hara / Masae Aida continues as legend—to those of her own time and to the young women who came later. And a legend exerts a compulsive attraction for others, whether it wants to or not.
Donald Richie, Japanese Portraits [x]