Sessue Hayakawa: Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom

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Duke University Press, Mar 28, 2007 - Performing Arts - 379 pages
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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.


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Christianity versus Buddhism The Melodramatic Imagination in The Wrath of the Gods
Doubleness American Images of Japaneses Spies in The Typhoon
The Noble Savage and the Vanishing Race Japanese Actors in Indian Films
The Making of an Americanized Japanese Gentleman The Honorable Friend and Hashimura Togo
More Americanized than the Mexican The Melodrama of SelfSacrifice and the Genteel Tradition in Forbidden Paths
Sympathetic Villains and VictimHeroes The Soul of Kura San and The Call of the East
Return of the Americanized Orientals RobertsonColes Expansion and Standardization of Sessue Hayakawas Star Vehicles
The Mask Sessue Hayakawas Redefinition of Silent Film Acting
The Star Falls Postwar Nativism and the Decline of Sessue Hayakawas Stardom
Americanization and Nationalism The Japanese Reception of Sessue Hayakawa

SelfSacrifice in the First World War The Secret Game
The Cosmopolitan Way of Life The Americanization of Sessue Hayakawa in Magazines
Balancing Japaneseness and Patriotism in His Birthright and Banzai

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About the author (2007)

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.

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