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
At times haunting, at times romantic, this once thought lost silent film turned out to be one of the crowning gems of its era. The film tells the story of Tatsu (Sessue Hayakawa), a madman who has become known as The Dragon Painter. Tatsu believes that a thousand years earlier his one and only love had her spirit taken away by a dragon so all he paints in dragons hoping that one day she will return to him. A master painter (Edward Peil, Sr.) living in Tokyo soon learns of Tatsu's great paintings and brings him in telling Tatsu that he knows where the spirit of his love is. The painter offers up his daughter (Toyo Fujita) in return that Tatsu make great paintings but after Tatsu gets his love back he doesn't feel the need to paint anymore. This film was thought lost for decades until a print turned up in 1977 and thankfully one did because this is a rare case where a lost film turns out to be well worth being found. The movie runs just over 50-minutes and it contains some very strong scenes as well as some great performances. The film was done by Hayakawa's own studio so needless to say the budget isn't the biggest but this works well for the film as it creates a tight and unique atmosphere and really captures the culture of Japan. The set design is also very well done and the new music score serves the film very well. For those of you who only know Hayakawa from his role in The Bridge on the River Kwai then you should certainly seek this film out. The Japanese born actor gives a very strong performance here and his scenes as the madman are right on the mark as are the scenes with him stricken with grief. Peil and Fujita also deliver fine performances. It's also nice seeing a film from this period that show a foreign man doing something other than being a gangster or villain.
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