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DRAGON PAINTER, THE(director: William Worthington; screenwriter: from the novel by Mary McNeil Fenollosa/Richard Schayer; cinematographer: Frank D. Williams; music: Mark Izu; cast: Sessue Hayakawa (Tatsu, the Dragon Painter), Edward Peil (Kano Indara), Tsuru Aoki (Ume Ko), Toyo Fujita (Undobuchida); Runtime: 53; MPAA Rating: NR; Milestone; 1919-silent)
“The high concept film is also entertaining.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

William Worthington (“Dr. Jim”/”The Illustrious Prince”/”His Debt”) directs this fantasy-allegory about the search for an enchanted princess. It’s based on the novel by Mary McNeil Fenollosa and is written by Richard Schayer. AFI was responsible for overseeing its restoration. It was originally produced by Haworth Pictures, a company run by the popular Japanese-American silent actor Sessue Hayakawa. He also stars in the film with his wife, Tsuru Aoki. It’s one of the few films to present to American audiences a Japanese aesthetic. The high concept film is also entertaining.

In the Hanake Mountains in Japan lives Tatsu, the Dragon Painter (Sessue Hayakawa), a madman obsessed with painting only dragons. He believes a thousand years ago the spirits took away his fiancée princess and he has been searching for her through his art. One day Undobuchida (Toyo Fujita), a government surveyor from Tokyo, is in Tatsu’s area and after seeing his great dragon paintings convinces him to come to Tokyo and meet the master artist Kano Indara (Edward Peil) who can help him find his dragon princess. The elderly Kano, who only has a daughter but no son, is looking for a male disciple worthy to carry on his traditional paintings, and after seeing Tatsu’s paintings is sure that he’s the man. When Tatsu meets Kano’s beautiful daughter Ume Ko (Tsuru Aoki), dressed up as a princess, he’s convinced that she’s the one he’s been looking for. The two men agree that if Tatsu serves an apprenticeship satisfactorily he will get permission to marry his princess. The two marry and are very happy, but Tatsu finds he’s so happy that he can’t paint any more. Ume Ko blames herself and leaves a note feigning suicide. Without his princess, Tatsu receives a vision and again paints masterpieces. Ume Ko then returns to him from the cloister in which she had been staying and the happy couple get back together. The lesson learned is that ‘love must be art’s servant.’


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”