I take an interesting class at a university. It’s about Japan in the U.S. films. The class started yesterday, and the first movie I saw was the Cheat.
The Cheat was released in 1915, when the world was amid the World War I. Starring actors of the film are Fanny Ward and Sessue Hayakawa. Sessue is said that he is the first Japanese actor who came to the top in Hollywood.
There are only three main characters in the Cheat: Tori, the mysterious oriental rich acted by Sessue, Edith, the shopping spree wife acted by Fanny and Richard, her husband.
Edith loves shopping. She always shops something, especially luxury clothing. Her husband Richard is a kind of workaholic and is always angry about her lavishness. Edith complains about her husband’s meanness to Tori, the rich man.
Edith is a treasure of Red Cross, which has many charity parties for war casualties in the World War I. She holds a high amount of money to send to Belgium. She, who is frustrated with her husband, put in all of the collected money for investing. But she lost all of the money.
Edith has to send the amount of money to Belgium next day. It is Tori to come to the aid of her. He presses her to sexual relationship in exchange for money. She agrees and gets money to send to Belgium.
That night Edith’s husband Richard tells her to have gained by an investment. Edith takes a lie to him to have lost a game and need money. She sneaks out of the house and goes to Tori with the money and asks him to scrap the agreement between the two.
Tori, however, doesn’t accept it and forces a kiss on Edith. He grabs her hair and brands Tori’s mark on her shoulder when she struggles and tries to escape. Edith shoots him. She flees from the place, but Richard follows her and is the site.
Richard takes the blame and is arrested. But in court Edith shows her shoulder in which there is a Tori’s brand and claims that she shot Tori but it was self-defense. People in court get angry to Tori and try to kill him. After all, Edith and Richard win acquittal.
As I wrote at the beginning, the world in 1915 was amid the World War I and was unsettled. Those days in the U.S. a growing number of immigrants from Asia come and many white people saw it as a threat, especially after Japan’s victory on Russo-Japanese War.
The movie has three strong messages:
1. It’s not good to work too much without seeing their families for husbands. They should be family men. Otherwise, wives may become out of control.
2. It’s bad to go out for wives. They should stay home and look after their husband. Otherwise they may get into danger.
3. Foreigners are dangerous, especially Asian. Asian men like Japanese are demonic even if they look like gentlemen. In the film there is such an emphatic message: “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”
The film didn’t appear in Japan, which was angry at it, at that time. And Sessue was regarded as a traitor in Japan. But interestingly he got more and more popular by the film in the U.S. It seems that his mysterious character was an irresistible attraction for American women.
Movies are useful to learn the age when the movies are made. They mirror the society. It’s interesting to know what people think of Japanese people in the U.S. at the beginning of the 20th century.