Sessue Hayakawa

Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom

Sessue Hayakawa

a John Hope Franklin Center Book

More about this series

Book Pages: 400 Illustrations: 23 illustratons Published: March 2007

Author: Daisuke Miyao

Asian American Studies, Asian Studies > East Asia, Media Studies > Film

While the actor Sessue Hayakawa (1886–1973) is perhaps best known today for his Oscar-nominated turn as a Japanese military officer in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), in the early twentieth century he was an internationally renowned silent film star, as recognizable as Charlie Chaplin or Douglas Fairbanks. In this critical study of Hayakawa’s stardom, Daisuke Miyao reconstructs the Japanese actor’s remarkable career, from the films that preceded his meteoric rise to fame as the star of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Cheat (1915) through his reign as a matinee idol and the subsequent decline and resurrection of his Hollywood fortunes.

Drawing on early-twentieth-century sources in both English and Japanese, including Japanese-language newspapers in the United States, Miyao illuminates the construction and reception of Hayakawa’s stardom as an ongoing process of cross-cultural negotiation. Hayakawa’s early work included short films about Japan that were popular with American audiences as well as spy films that played upon anxieties about Japanese nationalism. The Jesse L. Lasky production company sought to shape Hayakawa’s image by emphasizing the actor’s Japanese traits while portraying him as safely assimilated into U.S. culture. Hayakawa himself struggled to maintain his sympathetic persona while creating more complex Japanese characters that would appeal to both American and Japanese audiences. The star’s initial success with U.S. audiences created ambivalence in Japan, where some described him as traitorously Americanized and others as a positive icon of modernized Japan. This unique history of transnational silent-film stardom focuses attention on the ways that race, ethnicity, and nationality influenced the early development of the global film industry.


“ How was that possible in an age that—we would like to believe—was less tolerant and multicultural than our own? Miyao's consideration of Hayakawa's career moves us some way toward an answer to this question and also suggests that it was as surprising then as it would be now for an Asian male's star to shine as brightly as Hayakawa's. Miyao's scrupulous reading of each of Hayakawa's major films makes this clear. . . . [I]lluminating. . . .” — David Cozy, Asahi Shimbun

Sessue Hayakawa: Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom brings superb research and historical rigor to Hayakawa, an underrated Japanese silent film star, and to transnational film spectatorship during the early years of Hollywood. The book and its bibliography and inspirational for furthering the critical studies on other lesser-known Japanese cosmopolitan figures in early Hollywood. . . .Miyao’s book makes an unparalleled contribution and is an exemplary model for bridging the fields of cinema studies, Asian American studies, and Japanese studies.” — Sachiko Mizuno, Journal of Asian Studies

“[A] remarkable work of scholarship. . . .” — Brad Quinn, Daily Yomiuri

“[S]moothly written and impressively broad study of matinee idol and transnational star Sessue Hayakawa . . . . [T]his scholarly celebration of an overlooked artist is a rich treasure…Essential. All readers; all levels.” — T. Lindvall, Choice

“Accessibly written and replete with impeccable scholarship and incisive analysis, Miyao’s book constitutes a major contribution to film studies, Asian-American studies and cultural studies.” — Matthew Mizenko, Pacific Affairs

“It is the political environment that most interests Miyao in his scholarly and definitive interpretation of Hayakawa and his films. The book is not a biography in any narrow sense of the word; nor is it intended to be. It is a study of racial imagery during Hollywood's beginnings, of early political expediency at the movies, and the rise of an American genre, the ‘domestic melodrama that eventually supported white American patriarchy.’” — Donald Richie, Japan Times

“Miyao covers Hayakawa’s silent film period in fascinating detail. . . . [T]his is the essential work on Hayakawa and fascinating reading for anyone interested in early Hollywood or the politics of race and culture in cinema.” — Kevin McGue, Japan Today

“This book is a welcome addition to the literature on Orientalism, romance and the ‘Yellow Peril’ in Hollywood cinema, which has hitherto given scant attention to Hayakawa and his significant role in the silent cinema. The author’s bilingualism, assiduous research and wide-ranging scholarship have enabled a refreshingly comprehensive account and informed analysis of the reception of the star and his films in both Japan and America.” — Freda Freiberg, Asian Studies Review

“This is a significant book, and it is also agreeably designed by Duke, with a few nice touches of ‘Japanisme’. It is extremely well researched (the extensive bibliography includes many Japanese-language citations as well as English-language ones) and it will be a great resource for anyone studying Japanese-American issues, and especially for scholars interested in silent films, and who would appreciate an insightful analysis of these Japanese-related productions. . . . [T]he research is thorough, the insights are many, the writing is fluent with little jargon, and the volume does much to rehabilitate this important transnational star.” — Stephen Bottomore, Early Popular Visual Culture

“Fascinating . . . an exceptionally rich and provocative study of race and national imagery at the beginnings of the Hollywood film industry.” — Richard Peña, Program Director, Film Society of Lincoln Center, and Professor of Film Studies, Columbia University

“Sessue Hayakawa has not received the attention he deserves as one of the most popular and prolific stars of the American silent screen, and this book brings a wealth of material to light. Without replicating existing research, Daisuke Miyao makes an important contribution to three developing areas within film studies: new approaches to the history of early silent film, studies of the impact of Asian Americans on Hollywood, and studies of transnational links among various film industries around the world.” — Gina Marchetti, author of From Tian’anmen to Times Square

“This is the definitive work on Sessue Hayakawa. It is a work of great originality, a truly unique attempt not only to give a thorough account of the career of one of the first and most unusual stars of silent cinema but also to approach Hayakawa from the perspective of his identity as an ethnic Japanese gaining worldwide stardom. That Daisuke Miyao is able to interrogate not only Japanese sources but the Japanese-language newspapers in the United States makes this perhaps the most thorough—and complex—treatment of the ethnicity of a movie star ever offered by a film historian. And Miyao’s placing of Hayakawa’s stardom within the context of the political and cultural relations between the United States and Japan is nothing less than masterful.” — Tom Gunning, author of The Films of Fritz Lang: Allegories of Vision and Modernity


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Daisuke Miyao is Assistant Professor of Japanese Literature and Film at the University of Oregon. He is a coeditor of Casio Abe’s Beat Takeshi vs. Takeshi Kitano and a co-translator of Kiju Yoshida’s Ozu’s Anti-Cinema.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustration ix

List of Abbreviations xi

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction 1

PART ONE: Emperor, Buddhist, Spy, or Indian: The Pre-Star Period of Sessue Hayakawa (1914-15)

1. A Star Is Born: The Transnational Success of The Cheat and Its Race and Gender Politics 21

2. Screen Debut: O Mimi San, or The Mikado in Picturesque Japan 50

3. Christianity versus Buddhism: The Melodramatic Imagination in The Wrath of the Gods 57

4. Doubleness: American Images of Japanese Spies in The Typhoon 66

5. The Noble Savage and the Vanishing Race: Japanese Actors in “Indian Films” 76

PART TWO: Villain, Friend, or Lover: Sessue Hayakawa’s Stardom at Lasky-Paramount (1916-18)

6. The Making of an Americanized Japanese Gentleman: The Honorable Friend and Hashimura Togo 87

7. More Americanized than the Mexican: The Melodrama of Self-Sacrifice and the Genteel Tradition in Forbidden Paths 106

8. Sympathetic Villains and Victim-Heroes: The Soul of Kura San and The Call of the East 117

9. Self-Sacrifice in the First World War: The Secret Game 127

10. The Cosmopolitan Way of Life: The Americanization of the Sessue Hayakawa in Magazines 136

PART THREE: “Triple Consciousness”: Sessue Hayakawa’s Stardom at Haworth Pictures Corporation (1918-22)

11. Balancing Japaneseness and Americanization: Authenticity and Patriotism in His Birthright and Banzai 153

12. Return of the Americanized Orientals: Robertson-Cole’s Expansion and Standardization of Sessue Hayakaway’s Star Vehicles 168

13. The Mask: Sessue Hayakawa’s Redefinition of Silent Film Acting 195

14. The Star Falls: Postwar Nativism and the Decline of Sessue Hayakawa’s Stardom 214

PART FOUR: Stardom and Japanese Modernity: Sessue Hayakawa in Japan

15. Americanization and Nationalism: The Japanese Reception of Sessue Hayakawa 235

Epilogue 261

Notes 283

Filmography 333

Bibliography 337

Index 365
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Winner, 2007 Association for Asian American Studies Best Book in History

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3969-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3958-8
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