After waiting several years for the release of this rare silent film, it was very rewarding to find that this DVD surpassed even my highest expectations, and this is not only due to the special nature of the film itself, but also the many `deluxe' bonus features. There are, in fact, two full-length films on this DVD, both starring Japanese-American actor Sessue Hayakawa, as well as in-depth material on both films, including an original screenplay for one of them. The information contained in this extra material helps to appreciate the value of "The Dragon Painter" because in an environment of general prejudice against Asians in the first decades of last century, Hayakawa managed to carve out an impressive acting career for himself in early Hollywood, producing many of his own films according to his own taste and style. It is due to this independence and self-expression that "The Dragon Painter" is such a beautiful and special film, like a traditional work of Japanese art in a visual and poetic sense, underscored by a perfectly-suited musical score with Japanese tunes and sounds, blended with some contemporary jazz-like styles for special effect. And since Sessue Hayakawa plays the role of a wild-eyed madman of the mountains who paints stunning landscape pictures, the whole film is like a tribute to Japanese artistry, style and culture.
But this is only the beginning of realizing what an outstanding talent Hayakawa must have been, because in the second feature film on this DVD he plays yet another challenging role in a much earlier, 1914 film called "The Wrath of the Gods", which was produced by one of Hollywood's filmmaking pioneers, Thomas Ince. It is always exciting to see a full-length (in this case 60 minutes) film from this early period, especially when they already show exceptionally advanced style and structure. This becomes more evident when seeing the complete script for the film, available in DVD-ROM format in the bonus material, and reading just a few paragraphs of it shows a remarkable and surprising depth of detail which many film historians apparently hadn't anticipated, such as directions to the cameraman on angle and lighting, and every minute acting gesture as well as dialogues for the actors, even though their words are not heard and only a few basic intertitles are used to explain the story. Like "the Dragon Painter", this early film is also full of Japanese flavour, with traditional costumes and themes right out of Japanese culture, religion and traditions. It also has a superb Japanese-style musical score, and the picture quality of both films is very good, although just a little hazy or scratchy at times which is easily overlooked however, due to the picturesque scenes (The Dragon Painter being partly filmed in stunning Yosemite Valley) and the elegant and exotic oriental style of both films. For a rare taste of Japanese culture made in Hollywood, or to appreciate the early work of a fine and special actor, this DVD is a special treat not to be missed.