Asian-ish

The Story of Sessue Hayakawa Pt. 1

When I was in college back, quite literally before the last turn of the century, I wrote my college thesis on The Hidden Asian in Film.

Did you ever notice that there were no Asians in any of the original Star Wars trilogy?

But the Asian influences were everywhere:

  • The Emperor / The Emperor
  • The Shogun’s helmet / Darth Vader’s shogun helmet
  • Martial arts / Martial arts
  • The force / Qi
  • Yin-Yang / Dark-Light Side of the Force
  • Jedi knights / Shaolin warrior monks

In fact, the story of the original Star Wars “borrowed” heavily from the Japanese film Hidden Fortress but Lucas didn’t think any actual Japanese merited any screen time.

And that’s pretty much how films and television treated Asians for years – Asian-ish. Even characters like Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan were Asian-like – caricatures played by Caucasian actors.

But there was this fella named Sessue Hayakawa, who is not the fella pictured above but was the first sex symbol of Hollywood – ever. He pre-dated Rudolph Valentino by several years.

And his story goes just a little bit in explaining why there’s always been an Asian influence in Hollywood and television but few actual Asians.

For that part of the story, I’m going to head over to my friend Jocelyn’s website: Speaking of China for part 2 of this entry.

Location: yesterday, with a pot of coffee
Mood: ready for the week
Music: My oh my oh my what a wonder, my oh my oh my what a wonder
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5 thoughts on “Asian-ish”

    1. That makes two of us!

      I wrote it in 1993, which was … gah … 21 years ago. Good god, I coulda birthed a full adult by now. I’m sure it’s somewhere and I’m equally sure it’s cringeworthy at spots.

      Thanks for the comment and the x-post, Jocelyn!

  1. I read your post on Jocelyn’s websiteーfascinating stuff! I’m quite sure most of my Japanese friends (and even their parents…even grandparents!?) don’t know about this man!
    I’d love to read more about what interesting information you’ve dug up for your thesis. 🙂
    Ri recently posted…Magic Spice: Everything NiceMy Profile

    1. Hello there! Yes, I always found this fascinating and I had forgotten it myself until I came across something on Reddit.

      There are other bits and pieces I remember from that paper but, like most things in my head these days, they’re there, just not terribly distinct.

      Thanks for the comment!

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