Sessue Hayakawa: Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom, by Daisuke Miyao. Duke University Press, 2007, 380 pp., with 23 illustrations, $23.95 (paper)

Kintaro Hayakawa (1886-1973), born in modest circumstances in Chiba, went on to have an extraordinary and unexpected life elsewhere. Now renamed Sesshu (Sessue) Hayakawa, he became an internationally known Hollywood actor, one of the three "most famous and celebrated," along with Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks Sr.

The first of the ethnic matinee idols (Rudolph Valentino, half a decade later, was the second), Hayakawa proved popular mainly with those who went to the movies most — American women. Many were the theories thought up to account for this amazing admiration, including one critic's opinion that the actor appealed "to a latent female urge to experience sex with a beautiful but savage man of another race."

If this was so, another of the reasons for such attraction to films — which illustrated what was then defined as miscegenation and was still against many state laws — was that it amounted to safe sedition. In the words of Miriam Hansen, it (like the later Valentino cult) had a subversive effect against "the socially imposed dominance-submission hierarchy of gender roles, dissolving subject-object dichotomies into erotic reciprocity."