Tsuru Aoki

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Tsuru Aoki
Tsuru Aoki (ca. 1915).jpg
Portrait in a newspaper, 1916
Born(1892-09-09)September 9, 1892
DiedOctober 18, 1961(1961-10-18) (aged 69)
OccupationActress (stage and screen)
Years active1913–1924; 1960
Spouse(s)
(
m. 1914)

Tsuru Aoki (青木 鶴子, Aoki Tsuruko, September 9, 1892 – October 18, 1961) was a popular Japanese stage and screen actress whose career was most prolific during the silent film era of the 1910s through the 1920s. Aoki may have been the first Asian actress to garner top billing in American motion pictures.

Contents

Life and career

Born in Tokyo, Japan, Aoki came to California in 1899 with her uncle, Otojirō Kawakami, his geisha wife, Kawakami Sadayakko, and Otojirō's troupe of actors. At the their first stop in San Francisco, Tsuru performed with the troupe and assisted Sadayakko at a Palace Hotel tea ceremony where attendees raved over her "diminutive daintiness." But when the troupe ran into severe financial difficulties, Otojirō made arrangements to have Tsuru adopted by Toshio Aoki, a sketch artist for a local newspaper. [1] Tsuru Aoki started taking lessons in ballet dance in New York, when she went along with her uncle Toshio, who was hired by David Belasco for The Darling of the Gods. After Toshio's death a reporter looked after Aoki. [2] Aoki began her acting career after returning to Los Angeles and performing in stage productions in the city's Japanese Theatre where she was noticed by film producer Thomas Ince who placed the young actress under contract. She was also responsible for recruiting Japanese actors for Imperial Japanese Company, a subsidiary of New York Motion Picture Corporation. [2] Aoki made her film debut in the Majestic film studios release The Oath of Tsuru San in 1913 opposite actor William Garwood. Her follow-up film was the 1914 Ince produced O Mimi San, which starred the American child actress Mildred Harris and a handsome young newcomer named Sessue Hayakawa, whom Aoki had acted with onstage at the Japanese Theatre the previous year. The couple began a romantic relationship that would culminate in their marriage on May 1, 1914, just weeks before the release of their critically acclaimed and publicly successful film The Wrath of the Gods – a melodrama about an interracial romance between a man portrayed by Caucasian actor/director Frank Borzage and an Asian woman portrayed by Aoki. The film also starred Sessue Hayakawa and featured actress Gladys Brockwell. Hayakawa and Aoki would eventually make more than twenty films together throughout the 1910s and 1920s.

Tsuru Aoki (right) with actor and husband Sessue Hayakawa in a screen shot of the 1919 film The Dragon Painter. Thedragonpainter.jpg
Tsuru Aoki (right) with actor and husband Sessue Hayakawa in a screen shot of the 1919 film The Dragon Painter.
Aoki, ca. 1915 Tsuru Aoki by Albert Witzel.jpg
Aoki, ca. 1915

One of Aoki's most recalled films of the silent period is the 1919 William Worthington-directed The Dragon Painter , based on the novel of the same title by Sidney McCall, in which Aoki starred as a young woman who convinces an isolated, mentally deranged artist named Tatsu (portrayed by Hayakawa) to come down from the mountains so that she may civilize him and he may further his artistic abilities. Other notable films of the period were The Typhoon (1914), The Vigil (1914), The Geisha (1914), The Chinatown Mystery (1915), His Birthright (1918), and The Breath of the Gods (1920). Throughout the 1910s, Aoki would appear in approximately forty films, often in leading-lady roles which was a first for an Asian actress. Some of her co-stars of the era included such notable names as Marin Sais, Frank Borzage, Gladys Brockwell, Mildred Harris, Jack Holt, Jane Wolfe, Dagmar Godowsky, Vola Vale, Florence Vidor, Earle Foxe, and Walter Long. After a series of moderately successful Ince-produced two-reel serials, Aoki's career in the United States began to falter (while her husband's career began to build momentum), and the couple travelled to France in 1923 and filmed the popular Édouard-Émile Violet-directed drama La Bataille. After returning to America, however, Aoki made only three more films before retiring from the screen to raise her and Hayakawa's three children. Her last silent screen performance was the 1924 release The Danger Line. Aoki would only return to the screen in 1960 (her first talkie) to once again appear with her husband in the drama Hell to Eternity. She died the following year in Japan of acute peritonitis at the age of 69.

Filmography

TitleYearRoleNotesRef
The Oath of Tsuru San 1913Tsuru SanShort
O Mimi San 1914O Mimi SanShort
The Courtship of O San 1914O SanShort
The Geisha 1914MyoShort
Love's Sacrifice 1914Little FaunShort
The Wrath of the Gods 1914Toya San [3]
A Tragedy of the Orient 1914KissmoiaShort
A Relic of Old Japan 1914KatumaShort
Desert Thieves 1914OwanonoShort
Star of the North 1914Star of the NorthShort
The Curse of Caste 1914KissmoiaShort
The Village 'Neath the Sea 1914Little FawnShort
The Death Mask 1914Princess NonaShort
The Typhoon 1914
Nipped 1914San Toy NakadoShort
The Vigil 1914MiraShort
Mother of the Shadows 1914Laughing MoonShort
The Last of the Line 1914Girl at RiversideShort
The Famine 1915MisaoShort
The Chinatown Mystery 1915WooShort
The Beckoning Flame 1915JaniraShort [4]
Alien Souls 1916Yuri Chan [5]
The Honorable Friend 1916Toki-Ye
The Soul of Kura San 1916Kura-San
Each to His Kind 1917Princess Nada
The Call of the East 1917O'Mitsu - Arai's Sister
The Curse of Iku 1918Omi San
The Bravest Way 1918Sat-u
His Birthright 1918Saki San
A Heart in Pawn 1919Sada
The Courageous Coward 1919Rei Oaki
The Gray Horizon 1919O Haru San
The Dragon Painter 1919Ume-Ko
Bonds of Honor 1919Toku-ko
Locked Lips 1920Lotus Blossom
A Tokyo Siren 1920Asuti Hishuri
The Breath of the Gods 1920Yuki Onda
Screen Snapshots 1920-1921Herself
Black Roses 1921Blossom
Five Days to Live 1922Ko Ai
Night Life in Hollywood 1922Herself
The Battle 1923La Marquise Yorisaka
The Danger Line 1924Marquise Yorisaka
The Great Prince Shan 1924Nita
Sen Yan's Devotion 1924Sen Yan's Wife
Hell to Eternity 1960Mother Une(final film role)

Bibliography

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Sada Yacco or Sadayakko was a Japanese geisha, actress and dancer.

<i>The Dragon Painter</i> 1919 film directed by William Worthington

The Dragon Painter is a 1919 English language silent romance drama film. It is based on the novel of the same name, written by Mary McNeil Fenollosa. It stars Sessue Hayakawa as a young painter who believes that his fiancée, is a princess who has been captured and turned into a dragon. It was directed by William Worthington and filmed in Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California.

<i>The Wrath of the Gods</i> (1914 film) 1914 Film directed by Reginald Barker

The Wrath of the Gods is a 1914 American silent drama film directed by Reginald Barker and starring Sessue Hayakawa, Tsuru Aoki, Frank Borzage, Thomas Kurihara and Henry Kotani. This was the first feature film appearance of Hayakawa and the directorial debut of Barker.

The Typhoon is a 1914 American drama film directed by Reginald Barker, written by Melchior Lengyel, and starring Sessue Hayakawa, Gladys Brockwell, Frank Borzage, Henry Kotani and Leona Hutton. It was released on October 10, 1914, by Paramount Pictures.

<i>The Call of the East</i> 1917 American film directed by George Melford

The Call of the East is a 1917 American silent drama film directed by George Melford and written by Beulah Marie Dix. The film stars Sessue Hayakawa, Tsuru Aoki, Jack Holt, Margaret Loomis, James Cruze, and Ernest Joy. The film was released on October 15, 1917, by Paramount Pictures. It is not known whether the film currently survives, which suggests that it is a lost film.

The Geisha is a 1914 American short silent film, directed by Raymond West and using music by Sidney Jones from the stage musical The Geisha. The film features Sessue Hayakawa, Tsuru Aoki, Frank Borzage, Ramona Radcliffe and Henry Kotani in important roles.

A Relic of Old Japan is a 1914 American silent short drama film directed by Reginald Barker and Thomas H. Ince. Sessue Hayakawa, Tsuru Aoki, Frank Borzage and Henry Kotani played important roles in the film.

<i>The Courageous Coward</i> 1919 film by William Worthington

The Courageous Coward is a 1919 American silent drama film directed by William Worthington and featuring Sessue Hayakawa and Tsuru Aoki in lead roles. It is presumed to be a lost film with only reel 5 preserved at the EYE Film Institute Netherlands film archive.

<i>The Bravest Way</i> 1918 film by George Melford

The Bravest Way is a 1918 American silent drama film directed by George Melford and written by Edith M. Kennedy. The film stars Sessue Hayakawa, Florence Vidor, Tsuru Aoki, Yukio Aoyama, Jane Wolfe, and Winter Hall. The film was released on June 16, 1918, by Paramount Pictures.

<i>Sessue Hayakawa: Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom</i> book by Daisuke Miyao

Sessue Hayakawa: Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom is a biography of actor Sessue Hayakawa, written by Daisuke Miyao, assistant professor of film at the University of Oregon, and published by Duke University Press. It won the 2007 Book Award in History from the Association of Asian American Studies and the John Hope Franklin Book Award from Duke University (2007).

Star of the North is a 1914 American silent short adventure film directed by Thomas H. Ince and Jay Hunt. Sessue Hayakawa, Tsuru Aoki, J. Frank Burke, Herschel Mayall and Ernest Swallow played important roles in the film.

<i>The Village Neath the Sea</i> 1914 film by Thomas H. Ince, Jay Hunt

The Village 'Neath the Sea is a 1914 American silent short adventure film directed by Thomas H. Ince and Jay Hunt. Sessue Hayakawa, Tsuru Aoki, Lone Bear and Ernest Swallow played important roles in it.

<i>The Death Mask</i> 1914 film by Thomas H. Ince

The Death Mask is a 1914 American short drama film directed and produced by Thomas H. Ince and featuring Sessue Hayakawa and Tsuru Aoki in prominent roles.

Nipped is a 1914 American short silent drama film directed by George Osborne and featuring Sessue Hayakawa, Tsuru Aoki, Mr. Yoshida and Frank Borzage in pivotal roles.

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<i>His Birthright</i> 1918 film

His Birthright is a 1918 American drama film directed by William Worthington for Haworth Pictures Corporation. Sessue Hayakawa produced the film and played the lead role. The rest of the cast includes Marin Sais, Howard Davies, Mary Anderson, and Hayakawa's wife Tsuru Aoki.

<i>A Heart in Pawn</i> 1919 film by William Worthington

A Heart in Pawn is a 1919 American silent drama film directed by William Worthington. Sessue Hayakawa's Haworth Pictures Corporation produced the film and Worthington played the lead role along with Vola Vale and his wife Tsuru Aoki.

<i>The Gray Horizon</i> 1919 film by William Worthington

The Gray Horizon is a 1919 American silent drama film directed by William Worthington. Sessue Hayakawa's Haworth Pictures Corporation produced the film and he himself played the lead role. Bertram Grassby, Tsuru Aoki, Eileen Percy, Mary Jane Irving, and Andrew Robson also featured in the film.

<i>Bonds of Honor</i> 1919 American silent film directed by William Worthington

Bonds of Honor is a 1919 American silent film directed by William Worthington. Sessue Hayakawa's Haworth Pictures Corporation produced the film and he himself played the leading roles along with his wife Tsuru Aoki. Marin Sais, Dagmar Godowsky, Herschel Mayall, Toyo Fujita and M. Foshida also appeared in the film.

References

  1. Joseph L. Anderson, Enter a Samurai: Kawakami Otojirō and Japanese Theatre in the West, 2 v. (Tucson: Wheatmark, 2011), 1: 65, 88. According to Anderson, Aoki was an old friend of an American missionary couple the Kawakamis had met aboard ship, Merriman Colbert Harris and Flora Best Harris (89).
  2. 1 2 Anderson, Joseph L. (2011). Enter a Samurai: Full text and illustrations. Wheatmark, Inc. pp. 88–89. ISBN   978-1-60494-367-2.
  3. "Advertisement for The Wrath of The Gods". Delaware County Daily Times. Chester, Pennsylvania. 11 July 1914. p. 5. Retrieved 10 December 2014 via Newspapers.com. Open Access logo PLoS transparent.svg
  4. "The Beckoning Flame". Arkansas City Daily Traveler. Arkansas City, Kansas. 18 February 1916. p. 6. Retrieved 10 December 2014 via Newspapers.com. Open Access logo PLoS transparent.svg
  5. "Alien Souls". Iowa City Press-Citizen. Iowa. 24 August 1916. p. 3. Retrieved 10 December 2014 via Newspapers.com. Open Access logo PLoS transparent.svg

Further reading