Sessue Hayakawa Overview:

Legendary actor, Sessue Hayakawa, was born Kintarô Hayakawa on Jun 10, 1889 in Nanaura, Japan. Hayakawa died at the age of 84 on Nov 23, 1973 in Tokyo, Japan and was laid to rest in Chokeiji Temple Cemetery in Toyama, Japan.

Early Life

Sessue Hayakawa was born Kintaro Hayakawa on June 10th, 1989 in Chiba, Japan. He was born to a wealthy, prominent family, as his father was the provincial governor and his mother came from an aristocratic family of noble samurais. Due to his high birth, his father put immersive pressure on the young Sessue to follow his path and was fashioned from a very young age to become a naval office. However in 1907, while still attending the Naval Academy in Etajima, he accepted a friend's dares and swam to the bottom of lagoon and in the process ruptured his eardrum. As a result, Hayakawa failed the navy's strict and rigorous physical test and was rejected. His father, once proud of his prodigal, healthy son was now filled with shame and embarrassment and their relationship suffered. The pain became so great that at age 18 Hayakawa attempted the traditional samurai suicide ritual of seppuku and stabbed himself in the stomach thirty times. Luckily, he was found by father and taken to a hospital to recover.


After recovering from his suicide attempt, Hayakawa's father chose another career path and encourages his son to go into the banking business. He then enrolled at the University of Chicago where he studied political economics. He played quarterback for the school and was eventually penalized for using jujitsu on a player of the opposing team. After two years of studying in the state Hayakawa decided to dropout and return to Japan. He traveled west to Los Angeles in order to take a ship back to his home country. While stuck in transit in L.A, Hayakawa decided to explore the City and wound up in Little Tokyo. It was there he discovered a Japanese Theatre and became fascinated with the stage and performance. He soon began to act in local productions. In 1914 while in production of The Tycoon, Hayakawa was noticed by movie producer, Thomas Ince. He soon signed Hayakawa to contract and took him to the Hollywood Studio.

Hollywood Success

In 1914 Hayakawa began filming the big screen adaption of The Typhoon. The film was a huge success at the box office and soon audiences took notice of Hollywood newest leading man. During that time he also married fellow Hollywood actress performer Tsuru Aoki. The two starred together in his next film the successful The Wrath of God and followed up that up with up with yet another hit, The Sacrifice. After three hits in a row and an undeniable popularity with American audiences, Jesse L. Lasky took note and offered Hawakaya a contract. He accepted and was part of the Famous Player-Lasky, which would eventually morph in Paramount Studios.


In 1915 he made his first three films for the Lasky Players. His first two films featured Hayakawa as supporting roles in The Secret Sin and The Clue. Although popular already popular with audiences, it would be Hayakawa's third film for Lasky that would launch him in to superstardom.

On December 13th, 1915 Cecil B. DeMille's The Cheat was released into theatres. The film tells the story on a spoiled stockbrokers wife who is forced to succumb to the will of predatory Japanese art dealer after falling into financial troubles. The film was a major hit and caused quite the sensation with female audiences when Hayakawa's character physically branded the films female protagonist as property.  Hayakawa was now considered a viable romantic leading man and began making a salary of over $5,000 dollars a week. Along with his newly minted matinee status, Critics also hailed Hayakawa's restrained acting as something of revelation. While most other filmic performers where inspired by their time in the theatre or vaudeville, Hayakawa was inspired by the zen philosophy and attempted to showcase Muga, the "absence of doing," into his performances.

Continued Success

During the 1910's Hayakawa's popularity rivaled that of any white Hollywood star. Although he was extremely popular, institutional racism within Hollywood and anti-miscegenation laws would limit what roles he was offered. Over the next few years he appeared in over twenty films for Lasky, most of the time being typecast as the shifty, foreign villain or the exotic lover who would also lose the girl to Caucasian hero by the end of the film. Some of those films include The White Man's Law, The Call of the East, and Hidden Pearls. The few occasions were he did end up with the girl was when he starred with his wife in films such as Alien Souls, The Soul of Sura Kan, and Hashimura Fog.

Tired of being typecast, Hayakawa decided to form his own production company. In 1918, thanks to a million dollars loan from an old University of Chicago buddy, he formed Hayworth films. Now with complete creative control over his films, Hayakawa made it his goal to create a more fair and diversified view of Asians. He drove head first into his new project, acting as producer, actor, writer, editor, and even set designer of the pictures his company produced. The effort proved successful. Over the next few years, the company produced over twenty films and made about two millions dollars. At this point Hayakawa was one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood. By the end of the decade he own a large mansion at which he often hosted lavish parties and drove a one of kind gold platted Pierce-Arrow car.

Career Outside the U.S and WWII

By the start of 1920's Hayakawa Hollywood career would start to decline. As the new decade rolled in, Anti-Asian sentiment began to grow thanks to the post-war economic depression. Soon his films began to lose money at the box-office and in 1921 he entered into a series of unfortunate business dealings. With his finances dwindling and his film career in American seemingly at an end, Hayakawa left Hollywood and briefly returned to his home country. After unsuccessfully attempting to continue is film career in Japan, he quickly traveled back west to Europe.

For the next 15 years he would travel between the Americas, Europe, and Japan to continue performing. In 1923 he starred and directed in the film la bataille (The Battle). The film, with its audiences pleasing mix of melodrama and marital arts proved to be an incredible success. The next year he traveled to England to work on the films Sen Yan's  Devotion and The Great Prince Shan. In 1925 he wrote the novel The Bandit Prince which he later adapted in a short play. In 1930 Hayakawa made his way to the London stage to perform in the play, Samurai, before the King George V and Queen Mary. He later returned to Japan to produce the Japanese stage adaptation of The Three Musketeers. In 1930 he returned to Hollywood to star opposite Anna May Wong in the Lloyd Corrigan film, Daughter of the Dragon. The film proved disastrous for Hayakawa thanks to his thick Japanese accent and he would soon return to France. While performing on the French stage in 1940, the German occupation of France began. He acted very infrequently during the occupation and carved out a living by selling paintings. He also fought against the Nazi's by joining the French Resistance. After the War he remained in France for the next few year and continued to act in films.

Later Life

In 1949 Hayakawa was asked to return to Hollywood by Humphrey Bogart's production company for the film Tokyo Joe. The film was fairly well received by the critics and proved popularly at the box-office, helping to resurrect Hayakawa's  film career. He next played a supporting character in the 1950 film Three Came Home. He continued to play the role of "honorable villain" through out the rest of the decade. This type of character is typified by role of Colonel Saito in Davis Lean's 1957 prisoner of war film, The Bridge on the River Kwai. For his role as the traditional Japanese Colonel, Hayakawa was nominated for his first and only Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

After the film Hayakawa continued to act sporadically on film and television. He appeared in films like The Geisha Boy, Green Mansions and The Swiss Family Robinson and was seen on the small screen in shows like The Red Skelton hour and Route 66. His final role was in the 1967 Japanese film Junjo nijuso, after which he retired from the film. He later would returned to Japan and spend the rest of his retirement acting as a Zen master and drama couch. Sessue Hayakawa died on November 23rd, 1973 in Tokyo due to complications from pneumonia. He was 84 years old.

(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).



Although Hayakawa was nominated for one Oscar, he never won a competitive Academy Award.

Academy Awards

YearAwardFilm nameRoleResult
1957Best Supporting ActorThe Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)SaitoNominated

He was honored with one star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the category of Motion Pictures.

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Sessue Hayakawa Quotes:

Colonel Saito: All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.

Colonel Saito: Be happy in your work.

Colonel Saito: Do not speak to me of rules. This is war! This is not a game of cricket!

read more quotes from Sessue Hayakawa...

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Best Supporting Actor Oscar 1957

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Sessue Hayakawa on the
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Sessue Hayakawa Facts
He and his wife Tsuru Aoki were famous for their lavish parties during the early 1920s. According to historian Kalton C. Lahue, they held frequent luncheons for 150 guests, buffet suppers for as many as 900 and sit-down dinners for 250.

During the high point of his career, Hayakawa and wife Tsuru Aoki lived in a landmark home, built in the style of a French castle, at the corner of Argyle and Franklin streets in Hollywood. Demolished in 1956, this corner is now the site of the Franklin Street entrance to the Hollywood / 101 Freeway.

According to silent film historian Kalton C. Lahue, Hayakawa owned a gold-plated Pierce Arrow, and hired a liveried footman to go along with it. When fellow actor Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle also acquired the same type of car, Hayakawa donated his no longer one-of-a-kind auto to the Long Island Fire Department.

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