Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Fearing and Trembling Perverts on the River Kwai

Now and again, a particularly obscure or forgotten bit of cultural history keeps coming back. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve heard mention of Sessue Hayakawa at least eight or nine times. He first resurfaced during my recent purchase and viewing of The House of Bamboo and then he was heavily referenced last night in a documentary on KQED about Asian leading men when in Hayakawa's early career he starred in films like The Tong Man (1919) and DeMille’s potboiler, The Cheat (1915) where he reputedly predated Valentino as a matinee idol. Personally, I only like DeMille’s sexy melodramas and always crawled under the bed when those spooky Biblical epics came on during the Easter season. Growing up on the Great Plains, I always free associated DeMille, The Wizard of Oz, Jesus, pastel colors, the stench of boiled eggs and tornados as sickly inter-connected omens of spring. I always cheered for the Witch of the West as a woman of color (green), but that’s another story.

Like most people under 98, I only knew of Hayakawa from The Bridge on the River Kwai, a movie I don’t think I’ve seen all the way through in eons.
I just remember from my childhood hearing that friggin’, ceaseless whistling coming from the TV set in the den while I tooled away on some crafts project on the other end of my parents’ home.

Hayakawa deserves to be remembered for more than that. There is this little clip available from The Tong Man, and I am anxious to view my now ordered copy of The Cheat.

When I first came up with the concept of JunkThief , I promised that it would be filled with Japanese prison camp neurotica/erotica. I’ve never gotten around to that, but I always thought that The Bridge over River Kwai had those elements subliminally predating the anything but subliminal Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. Those themes, however, I think were best updated in Stupeur et tremblements (Fear and Trembling) in which the Bowie/Sakamoto relationship is transferred to a Belgian woman obsessed with her Japanese female supervisor who forces her to clean the washroom, a duty accepts in bowing, salivating submission. The entire power dynamic and transfer of gay male desire
onto repressed lesbian Belgian/Japanese women is very Fassbinder-esque. (Honestly, I didn’t make that plot up.) Someday I promise to explore that whole prison camp scenario and dive deep into the childhood dreams of baby JunkThief. The fact that two of William Holden's greatest roles were with former DeMille silent era leading players (Swanson and Hayakawa) fuels the JunkThief imagination of a Sunset Boulevard follow-up starring Hayakawa and Holden in which an exotic, still handsome leading man gives tips to an emerging young talent while urging him to help him return to the screen in an Oscar Wilde penned epic. Alas, that one will only screen in the JunkThief imagination unless we can somehow put it up on JunkThief TV in Junk-mation...

I am curious what the recently discovered Slavoj Zizek of The Perverts Guide to Cinema would make of it? Gosh, I’m glad to know I finally have a guide in all of this.

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At 1:17 PM, Blogger Bryce Digdug said...

Doesn't Hayakawa have a great voice? And what did you think of that pink transparent screen between the lead and his girl!

At 1:33 PM, Blogger Junk Thief said...

A good voice, and of course we all know what a pink screen means. JunkThief always puts one up when he shares a room with a girl.

JunkThief loves Sakamoto's voice also, especially in The Last Emporer where he goes into some rant about how Japan may rule China and Southeast Asia now but "...tomorrow the WORLD!!!" Oh, wait, I think that was dubbed.


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