Several people in their 20′s who ride in my car ask “Who is Sessue Hayakawa?”
No, it’s not because they recently watched “The Cheat” (1915), but because that is the name of my 2008 Mazda 3.
When I got my car in October, the car needed a Japanese name that was either World War II or old Hollywood related.
Names like Tokyo Rose and Kamakazi didn’t fit and Anna Mae Wong is Chinese, so the great Sessue Hayakawa, who was born on June 10, 1889, seemed like a good name for my new sedan.
Though several of movie goers mainly know Hayakawa from his most famous role in “Bridge Over the River Kwai;” Hayakawa’s roles in the late 1940s to the early 1960s marked a comeback for the actor.
Born in Japan to wealthy parents, Hayakawa was the first Asian-American film star in the United States; starting his acting career in 1914.
He became a celebrity after playing an Asian who has an affair with a white aristocrat woman in Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Cheat” (1915). After this film Hayakawa was one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood.
However, by the 1920s, Hayakawa’s career started to decline as Anti-Asian sentiments began to rise in the United States.
He was in a handful of films from 1932 to 1947, but made a comeback in Hollywood after World War II. Most of his roles were as a Japanese officer in post-war World War II films such as “Three Came Home” (1950) and “Bridge Over the River Kwai” (1957).
From a pirate in “Swiss Family Robinson” (1960) to romancing the silent era’s leading actresses, Hayakawa could do it all. Though his early, prolific career may be forgotten by most, he still left his mark on contemporary film.
Though the name might be a mouthful, I hope to teach passengers in Sessue the Mazda a little bit of film history while they are along for the ride.
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