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Sessue Hayakawa (Sessue Hayakawa)

Sessue Hayakawa

Sessue Hayakawa (早川 雪洲? Hayakawa Sesshū, June 10, 1889 – November 23, 1973) was a Japanese actor who starred in Japanese, American, French, German, and British films. Hayakawa was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood during the silent era of the 1910s and 1920s. He was the first actor of Asian descent to find stardom as a leading man in the United States and Europe. His “broodingly handsome” good looks and typecasting as a sexually dominant villain made him a heartthrob among American women during a time of racial discrimination, and he became one of the first male sex symbols of Hollywood. During those years, Hayakawa was as well-known and popular as Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, although today his name is largely unknown to the public. His popularity, sex appeal, and extravagant lifestyle (e.g., his wild parties and his gold-plated Pierce-Arrow) unsettled many segments of American society which were already filled with feelings of the “yellow peril”. With the rising tensions between Japan and the United States, Japanese actors were no longer welcome in Hollywood. Following the end of the war, Asian characters were depicted in a desexualized fashion in modern Hollywood and in the wider society, as exemplified by the controversial character of I. Y. Yunioshi in Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Hayakawa refused to adopt the negative stereotypes. He abandoned Hollywood for European cinema and there he was treated equally. Hayakawa’s friendships with American actors led him to return to Hollywood. He was one of the highest paid stars of his time, earning $5,000 per week in 1915, and $2 million per year through his own production company during the 1920s. He starred in over eighty movies, and two of his films stand in the United States National Film Registry. Of his English-language films, Sessue Hayakawa is probably best known for his role as Colonel Saito in the film The Bridge on the River Kwai, for which he received a nomination for Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1957. He played a similar role as General Matsui in Hell to Eternity, opposite Jeffrey Hunter as USMC hero Guy Gabaldon. He also appeared in the 1950 film Three Came Home and as the pirate leader in Disney’s Swiss Family Robinson in 1960. In addition to his film acting career, Sessue Hayakawa was a theatre actor, film and theatre producer, film director, screenwriter, novelist, martial artist, member of the French Resistance, and a Zen master.

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  • June, 10, 1889
  • Minamibōsō, Chiba, Japan


  • November, 23, 1973
  • Tokyo, Japan

Cause of Death

  • cerebral thrombosis


  • Chokeiji Temple Cemetery
  • Toyama, Japan

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