Self and Other II

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The Dragon Painter

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 18, 2015

Very picturesque. Those waterfall shots! The historical context is really interesting—a whole dedicated production company for silent film star Hessue Hayakawa to make films with. (You know him as the camp commandant in The Bridge on the River Kwai [1957, q.v.]. He’s so much more than that!) More than twenty produced during its existence. He must have really been popular, especially if the films ended up as unusual, as aggressively Japanese as this one.

Hayakawa is a convincing, masculine figure. Not that I would necessarily know, but the cultural details seem really authentic, particularly because they’re not forced or fetishized. No apology, no straining, just confidently there. (Very much of its time: why is the master painter played by an [obviously] white guy?) Though the source is a novel by a white person, there’s also much of the folk tale to this. That may be why it feels a bit fragmented, or unformed. (A characteristic discussed, for instance in Yeats, 1893.) So, this isn’t quite the run-of-the-mill, which is to say that it’s probably a lot more interesting than a lot of things that more conventionally come your way.