Mentioned By Name

It has been exactly 156 days since I last mentioned Bob Dylan on this blog. By mentioning him today, I have corrected that horrible omission. I had to do it, it was haunting me.

But don’t ask me what I think about his latest album of “standards,” Shadows in the Night, because I really don’t know how I feel about it. Mixed feelings, says it best . . . and with that, ’nuff said about it.

In a Bob Dylan related mention, today is 105th birthday of Howlin’ Wolf (1910-1976) born Chester Arthur Burnett, who was the great Chicago blues singer, guitarist and harmonica player from White Station Mississippi. One of the true giants and pioneers of blues music. Lord knows Bob stole a lot from was heavily influenced by the man. Howlin’ Wolf’s drummer, Sam Lay, even played on Bob’s Highway 61 Revisited.

I’d also like to mention something that is totally unrelated to Bob Dylan or Howlin’ Wolf: today is the 125th anniversary of the birth of Sessue Hayakawa (1889-1973). If you recognize that name at all, it is probably from the film Bridge on River Kwai (1957), in which he played the commandant of the prison camp, Colonel Saito. That performance earned him a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Early Hayakawa and as Col. Saito
Early Hayakawa and as Col. Saito

Hayakawa was a prolific actor, appearing in over 100 films, many of them silent, many of them Japanese productions. No doubt you have seen him in his other English language movies, such as Swiss Family Robinson, Tokyo Joe, The Geisha Boy, House of Bamboo, and Hell to Eternity.

Several years ago, when Turner Classic Movies had a month long Asian film festival, I watched some of his early work, including a couple of silents. According to Stephen Gong, Executive Director of the Center for Asian American Media, “Hayakawa’s acting inspiration, his unique approach, which he attributed to Zen Buddhism, brought to the silent screen an acting style characterized by intuition, naturalness and the eradication of conscious effort. In Zen this is termed the state of muga—an absence of self-awareness. Contemporary critics hailed it as a “repressed” method of acting (and as such suitably ‘Oriental’).”

IMBD says, “The popularity of Hayakawa rivaled that of Caucausian male movie stars in the decade of the 1910s, and he became one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood.”

zen-hayakawaHayakawa was also a producer, author, martial artist and ordained Zen priest. He lived much of his life in Los Angeles, but after his wife, Tsuru Aoki, died in 1961, he went back to Japan, and wrote his autobiography Zen Showed Me the Way: To Peace, Happiness and Tranquility, and that’s when he became a Zen priest.

I tried to find his book on the Internet so that I could share a pithy or inspiring quote from it with you. The only thing I found (besides a pic of the cover) was this: “All my life has been a journey. But my journey differs from the journeys of most men.”

Well, everyone’s life is a journey and each journey is different, unique to each individual. So here’s something truly profound from that great WWII film Bridge on River Kwai directed by David Lean and in addition to Hayakawa staring William Holden, Alec Guinness, and Jack Hawkins. In the movie, Colonel Saito forces the British POWs to construct a railway bridge for the Japanese to use. At one point, the Colonel tells the prisoners “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.”

Today’s post has been a bit of play, but I hope also informative. Another piece of information: You’ve probably heard the words spoken by Colonel Saito many times before. It’s an old proverb that first appeared in James Howell’s Proverbs in English, Italian, French and Spanish way back in 1659.

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