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Sessue Hayakawa: First Japanese Hollywood Star in Two Movies

Sessue Hayakawa The Devil's ClaimSessue Hayakawa: First Japanese movie star in 'The Devil's Claim.'

'The Devil's Claim': First Japanese movie star Sessue Hayakawa in 'excellent drama'

In The Devil's Claim, Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa plays an Indian (!) novelist who uses his experiences with women as inspiration for his novels. Next, he encounters a young American woman (Rhea Mitchell) who tells him a story about Satan-worshipping societies and evil talismans. Her real motive, however, is to reunite the novelist with Indora (future 1920s superstar Colleen Moore), a young Persian girl whom he had abandoned.

Directed by Charles Swickard from a screenplay by J. Grubb Alexander, The Devil's Claim is an excellent drama – and so is Hayakawa's performance. Much of the plot is told in the “story within a story” mode, as the film brings to life the sensational chapters of the author's latest novel.

As a plus, The Devil's Claim was screened in a gorgeous 35mm print from the George Eastman House.

The Devil's Claim (1920).
Dir.: Charles Swickard.
Scr.: J. Grubb Alexander.
Cast: Sessue Hayakawa. Rhea Mitchell. Colleen Moore. William Buckley. Sidney Payne. Joe Ray (as Joe Wray).

'O Mimi San': First film starring Sessue Hayakawa

The 20-minute O Mimi San is historically important as Sessue Hayakawa's first film. In it, Hayakawa plays a prince who goes to a retreat after an attempt on his life is made; once there he falls in love with a young woman, O Mimi San (Tsuru Aoki, Hayakawa's own future wife), but then finds himself torn between love and his duty as a leader of his nation. Compounding matters, an arranged marriage (to child bride Mildred Harris – future wife of Charles Chaplin – in East Asian make-up) awaits him.

Directed by Charles Miller and allegedly written by Thomas H. Ince (a studio head best remembered for his “mysterious” death in 1924), O Mimi San is a somewhat primitive film. That said, it offers some striking imagery.

Sessue Hayakawa, for his part, does well in the role, though at this stage he hadn't yet developed his trademark “quiet” style of screen acting that he would display the following year in his landmark vehicle The Cheat, directed by Cecil B. DeMille.

O Mimi San (1914).
Dir.: Charles Miller.
Scr.: Thomas H. Ince (unconfirmed).
Cast: Sessue Hayakawa. Tsuru Aoki. Mildred Harris. Kisaburô Kurihara (as Thomas Kurihara). Chick Morrison. George Osborne. Miss Lyons. Charles Edler.

The Devil's Claim and O Mimi San reviewed at Cinesation 2009.

© James Bazen

 

The Devil's Claim movie cast info via the IMDb.

O Mimi San movie cast info via the IMDb.

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