Sessue Hayakawa

Item # 159694.

Sessue Hayakawa: Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom

By Daisuke Miyao.

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. 

Paper: 400 pp.

 





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