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Tatsu is a slightly delusional painter who lives in the wilderness. He spends his days painting nothing but the image of his love, a princess he believes to have been incarnated as a dragon. His work is noticed by a servant of Kano Indara, an aging master painter who has no male heir or disciple to pass his skills to. The servant brings Tatsu to Indara under the belief that Indara can help him find his princess in exchange for allowing Indara to pass his knowledge on to him. Once there, Tatsu is led to believe that Indara's daughter, Ume Ko, is the princess. Tatsu agrees to stay, but now that he has found his love he no longer has the inspiration to paint the masterpieces that he once produced. Ume Ko pretends to kill herself so that Tatsu can once again find inspiration through his sorrow, and once he regains this she reveals herself to him. He has learned that "love must be a slave to art", and they live out the rest of their days together, with Tatsu painting her as he once did. Written by
In the mountains of Japan, forlorn young artist Sessue Hayakawa (as Tatsu aka "The Dragon Painter") paints magnificent landscapes. He prays "Divinity" will restore his fiancée, whom he believes was changed into a dragon, 1,000 years ago. Meanwhile, in Tokyo, an forlorn older painter, Edward Peil (as Kano Indara) laments not having a son to carry on his family line of artists. When Mr. Peil sees Mr. Hayakawa's paintings, he sees a painter worthy to become his "son and disciple." Hayakawa also falls in love with Peil's daughter Tsuru Aoki (Ume-Ko), believing she's the reincarnation of his long lost princess. But, with his love fulfilled, Hayakawa loses his ability to paint
An introduction notes, "'The Dragon Painter' was originally released in 1919 by the Haworth Pictures, a Hollywood-based production company formed the previous year by Sessue Hayakawa, a Japanese-born actor who enjoyed great popularity in the silent period. The film was ninth of twenty-two features produced by Haworth, each of which was tailored to Hayakawa's talents and to his stock company of Japanese actors." Fortunately, a print of this film was found, in France, and restored.
The description, "The Dragon Painter is a fantasy-allegory of love and creative inspiration that is lost when longing is fulfilled," is accurate. "With its production, Hayakawa intended to provide a different view of Japanese culture to American audiences, avoiding the stereotyping, violence, and melodramatic conflict expected in 'Oriental' films of the period." Hayakawa was successful in that part of his goal; although, this film probably did not and will not appeal to most viewers, and is not the best example of its intent.
**** The Dragon Painter (9/28/19) William Worthington ~ Sessue Hayakawa, Edward Peil, Tsuru Aoki
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