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Japan's 70-year struggle against Hollywood film stereotypes

49 Comments

Over the past 70 years, when a "Japanese" -- which is to say an actor representing a male Japanese -- appeared in a Hollywood movie, what sort of image was he most likely to project? A pint-sized man wearing black-framed spectacles, with protuberant incisors, perhaps? Like the klutzy photographer "Yunioshi" in "Breakfast at Tiffany's?"

Well, writes Sapio (September), such a description would not be entirely wrong. Looking back at the 70 years since the end of World War II, it would certainly be no exaggeration to say that Hollywood's portrayals of Japanese males have been less than flattering.

Females, on the other hand, were likely to evoke the characteristics of the geisha: feminine, subservient, eager and willing to please males. Based, in part, on stories brought back to the U.S. by soldiers returning home from the military occupation of Japan.

As with Swedish actor Warner Oland and his two successors in the Honolulu detective Charlie Chan film series, and Hungarian-born Peter Lorre as Japanese secret agent Mr Moto, Caucasians made up to appear Asian dominated U.S. cinema as late as the 1960s, and with a few exceptions it was not until the rise of Bruce Lee that Asian-American actors managed to break into heroic starring roles.

Ever so gradually, however, images of Japanese began to diversify, so that by the 1970s and 1980s, there would be Lee spin-off films, about the exploits of modern-day ninjas -- teams of secret assassins whose origins dated back several centuries. And thanks to best-selling books like Ezra Vogel's "Japan as Number One: Lessons for America" and Eric Van Lustbader's "The Ninja," Japan evolved into a country portrayed as a fusion of tradition and high tech.

"Americans continue to show their preference to see Japan portrayed as a land of ninja and samurai, a part of the 'mysterious East,'" Yumiko Murakami, a researcher on the history of Japan and the U.S., tells Sapio. She cites the 1986 comedy film "Gung Ho," a politically incorrect comedy directed by Ron Howard, which featured a Japanese automaker reopening a car factory in western Pennsylvania's rust belt.

Typical of the gags in the film is one where lead star Michael Keaton, an autoworker invited to his boss's home for what he assumes is a home-cooked Japanese dinner. Smacking his lips, he compliments his hostess, saying "Mmm, this is great! What do you call this anyway?"

"Meat roaf?" comes the puzzled reply.

While "Gung Ho" was at least grounded in the reality of Americans' concerns over economic incursions from Japan, it became far more common to find stereotypical film motifs related to sumo or kabuki. Or scenes featuring "nyotai-mori," in which morsels of sushi are artistically served from atop the torso of a nude female.

By the start of the present century, more Japan-born actors began to be tabbed for prominent roles. Examples include Chiaki Kuriyama who appeared in "Kill Bill Vol. 1," as Go-go Yubari, a cold-blooded high school age assassin and understudy to female heavy Lucy Liu.

And Japanese male performers are at long last also being accorded a modicum of dignity, such as Ken Watanabe's role in "Inception" (2010), a science-fiction film about corporate espionage.

As Murakami notes, "Ken Watanabe is neither a half-pint, nor does he have buck teeth. His popularity may be due to his defying what has up to now been the stereotypical image of Japanese men. But I'm not sure whether this means that Japanese are not receiving fair treatment.

"Due to trade friction, the 1980s became known as the time for 'Japan bashing'; after that came 'Japan passing'; and now things have come to 'Japan nasshing' (nothing)," observes Murakami. "Japan and other Asian countries have been almost completely eclipsed by China, and we can see this trend strengthening in Hollywood as well."

How Japanese will be portrayed in Hollywood films of the future, then, is anybody's guess.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.


49 Comments
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a mediocre Zhang Ziyi who's way too Chinese

But so hot.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Why care about American ignorance....a good example is the Hollywood movie Memoirs of a Geisha..with Chinese actresses in the lead roles...a mediocre Zhang Ziyi who's way too Chinese..based on American novel..US fraud software :)

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Hollywood is not so good about getting Japanese surnames right.

. . . & japanese don't do so well in Hollywood. Vito takeshi, huh? ken watanabe, maybe. Give me Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan & (the beautiful) Zhang Ziyi anyday.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

gokai_wo_maneku: neither is Moto, as in Mr. Moto. Hollywood is not so good about getting Japanese surnames right.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

commanteer: I once had some drinks at a nice house in the Hollywood Hills. It was owned by a young and soft-spoken but smart guy name Brian. Was surprised to learn he played the goofy Japanese guy in Police Academy. i wouldn't have recognized him if he hadn't told me. It seems to have paid the bills anyway.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Tochi

He was widely recognized as the most popular East Asian child actor working in U.S. television during the late 1960s through much of the 1970s having appeared in various T.V. series and nearly a hundred televisual advertisements. He is best known for his characters Toshiro Takashi from the Revenge of the Nerds film franchise, Cadet (later Lieutenant) Tomoko "Elvis" Nogata from the third and fourth films in the Police Academy film series, and as the voice of Leonardo in the first three live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

They are no more victims than the portrayal of Blacks in Japanese media. I seem to remember when Memoirs of a Geisha came out the uproar of portraying a Chinese actress as a Japanese woman. Some people will just never be satisfied.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

While I have not taken the time to read all the comments, I will add these:

Rising Sun most certainly had the perpetrators as Japanese. And while American of Japanese ancestry, James Shigeta (The Yakuza, Die Hard, Brother) had a long career and was well-respected.

The trouble with finding breakout Japanese stars in US film is that US film makes 50-90% of its revenue in the US. Unless the story requires someone explicitly Asian or, more specifically, Japanese then there is no motivation to cast a foreigner in a lead or co-starring role.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I don't think "Yunioshi" is even a Japanese name.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I do not think it is just Japanese who get treated harshly in casting. Nearly all male asian characters are either martial arts specialists or geeky in some way. There is no asian male lead who can play the leading man in a blockbuster movie in the way that Will Smith or a number of other black actors are able to do.

In Britain they're is a healthy discussion about whether the next James Bond might be played by a black actor. No one asks whether he might be East Asian.

If you want to get on the A list, don't be Asian.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

No mention of Sessue Hayakawa, (Hayakawa Kintaro) who not only was one of the greatest actors of the silent era, but a producer/director who made movies that attempted to show a different side of Asia to Americans. He and his wife Tsuru Aoki fled to Europe in the wake of Executive Order 9066, but they found themselves in the middle of the occupation of France. Hayakawa and Aoki ended up becoming involved in the French Resistance. Hayakawa and Aoki came back to the US after the war, and an entirely new chapter of his career began, starting with Humphrey Bogart's film Tokyo Joe. His most famous role was Col. Saito in Bridge on the River Kwai, for which he received a Best Supporting Actor nomination. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sessue_Hayakawa

4 ( +4 / -0 )

My favorite Japanese stereotype in a movie is Harold Sakata as Oddjob in "Goldfinger."

If you had read Ian Fleming's book you would know Oddjob was Korean. That said, Sakata gave a hell of a performance.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

It stands to reason that the portrayal of Japanese characters will change when good Japanese actors get to showcase their talents in good movies that aren't only targeting Japanese audiences.

It might help to encourage foreign studios to use Japan as a filming location as well, though from what I understand the costs involved in shooting a movie in Japan are prohibitive and the talent agencies demand a say in the casting process.

By and large the output of the Japanese movie industry comes across and amateurish and insular, but there are fantastic directors, DPs, writers and actors in Japan.

The sooner they get to produce well-made, critically acclaimed material, the better.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I always thought Toshiro Mifune could have kicked John Wayne AND Sean Connery's asses both at the same time.

In fact, I'd even gamble on beat Takeshi out drawing the former.

I'm glad JT picked up on Hollywood's abysmal portrayal of Japanese, something of a bad habit it picked up from the war years when it was the official war propaganda department.

Sadly, few Westerners have the interest and patience to watch Japanese movie (beyond the usual few classics). I'm hoping that the anime generation grows up with a greater desire to. It'll lead to a far better cultural appreciation.

Mifune versus Lee Marvin ...? Hmmn. A bit more even.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

My favorite Japanese stereotype in a movie is Harold Sakata as Oddjob in "Goldfinger."

The most bizarre example of yellow-face casting has to be John Wayne as Genghis Khan in "Conqueror."

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Things are changing. Hollywood is growing up.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

look who is calling the kettle black as Japan does the same thing with many foreigners and think that being white one knows perfect English. what a crock

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Kikuchi RInko .

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Completely understandable given how difficult it is to find Japanese-Americans in either Honolulu or LA.

Ha. Clever.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

OldHawkAUG. 13, 2015 - 07:51AM JST I remember Ricardo Montalbán portraying Japanese characters in both Sayonara (1957) and an episode of Hawaii Five-O.

Completely understandable given how difficult it is to find Japanese-Americans in either Honolulu or LA.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

When Sony Pictures has the capacity to change this, it won't. But it will make pictures that will entice the Chinese to get into the movie theatres I do not wonder why.....

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I remember Ricardo Montalbán portraying Japanese characters in both Sayonara (1957) and an episode of Hawaii Five-O. The Hawaii Five-O episode was accidentally humorous. Pretending to be Japanese was apparently too difficult for Montalbán, so he gave up about 20 minutes in and was just himself for the remainder of the show.

Hollywood depends on stereotypes. It's an ugly fact of life. Just ask anybody from the southeastern U.S.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Sofia Coppola's 2003 'Lost in Translation' presented dozens of Japanese bit parts. Director shouting, Sushi chef smiling 'brack toe', Doctor describing X-Ray, Wild Japanese TV Host, ect. The point of this article centers on "flattering" portrayals. Point being then Mickey Rooney's cartoon Japanese is hardly representative of Japanese people. Did LinT follow the same criticism offered in this piece?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Wc626AUG. 12, 2015 - 02:33PM JST My fav portrayal of a japanese. . . . waz the japanese foreign exchange student in the movie, "Sixteen Candles".

Wrong on two counts. "Long Duk Dong" was a Chinese exchange student (the name should have tipped you off) and was played by Japanese-American Gedde Watanabe, who at least got to play a Japanese in "Gung Ho."

kcjapanAUG. 13, 2015 - 05:40AM JST What about Sofia Coppola's 2003 'Lost in Translation'?

Yes. What about "Lost in Translation"? About the only thing that could be said to be a bit OTT, but played for laughs and based on a true story, was the prostitute imploring Murray's character to "Lip my stockings."

1 ( +1 / -0 )

"Looking back at the 70 years since the end of World War II, it would certainly be no exaggeration to say that Hollywood’s portrayals of Japanese males have been less than flattering." - article

Relying on Hollywood to form one's opinions or inform intelligent awareness isn't what Hollywood does.

Picking on Mickey Rooney's “Yunioshi” misses the whole point of the sixties' audience. Hollywood makes all characters appropriate for the audience of the time. Were the character's of Michael Douglas' 1989 'Black Rain' flattering? What about Sofia Coppola's 2003 'Lost in Translation'?

Yumiko Murakami probably has far more interesting observations than this article provides. Hollywood deals in stereotypes? Wow, stop the press.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Nowadays the stereotype seems to be either a mecha freak, a computer nerd or (if a young female) into cosplay. I think the old buck-tooth, squinting through thick glasses with a camera always at the ready stereotype is long gone... least I hope it is.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Agree totally with the sentiments of most posters - thankfully the days of mainstream English language movies blatantly(naively) stereo-typing character based on ethnicity have waned, but a lot of humor based on such characterizations has elements based on truths. Just it's not pc to do so now. A couple of loose anecdotes (that prove nothing but are just anecdotes)

My neighbour of 10+years ago was a spitting image of Mr Yunioshi. A very friendly likeable guy who befriended me (shock horror a gai-jin ha, ha!) from day 1. He even spat a little as he talked through his projecting teeth, the comic book looking stereotype, with a great heart. Maybe it was partially because he was wheel chair bound.

Many many years ago on my first date (in Australia to a restaurant both 18yrs). Went to a recommended family run small Chinese restaurant. Owner father & son handled the kitchen, wife the front. After a nice dinner she asked us if we would like coffee. Me: Yes please. Her: Why? Me: err err Yes Please! Her Why? Me: err I'm a little thirsty. Her: BLA, WHY. Wotchu wan, Bla Coffee or Why coffee? Me: 2 White coffees please.

No Bull, No Stereotyping.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

I liked Haru Miyake in the Moon Cometh in December. Excellent film.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@RonriiUrufu,

Nice! A couple of good movies there. Teahouse of the August Moon was outstanding. Much has been made of Marlon Brando playing a Japanese, but in the context, it worked (for a movie made then) and the actual portrayal of the people in Okinawa and the woman was pretty positive. Again, given when the movie was made. Kyo Michoko is a great actress and has had a long career, but I think this was the only Hollywood film she made. Teahouse of the August Moon reminds me of Sayonara, also starring Marlon Brando. And, of course, Umeki Miyoshi and Taka Miiko, although both were U.S. citizens.

Anyway, excellent point that there were good movies with Japanese having solid roles over the years. I suppose it was just that there were relatively few, other than the war / post war related movies.

@Suzu1,

Aaah, Mr. Miyagi! Mr. Wax On & Wax Off. Yes, of course. Pat Morita. Legend. One of those beloved Japanese-American actors. Heck, he even played "Arnold" in "Happy Days" for a bit.

And I think this is a key point. While there are not a huge number of Japanese nationals who have "made it" in Hollywood, there are a number of Japanese-Americans that did well, both in movies and TV. Perhaps not always in starring roles, but as solid character actors over the years. And in roles that were not "stereotypes".

Consider just a few of these names:

George Takei - best known as Sulu from Star Trek. Mako - One of my favourites. He was originally Japanese nationality, but essentially lived in the U.S. most of his life. Perfectly played Yoshida-san in Rising Sun. James Shigeta - Another one of my favourites. Like Mako, he carved out a place for himself in Hollywood. Mr. Takagi "You are just going to have to kill me" in Die Hard. Tamlyn Tomita - Karate Kid 2 et al. She has done well.

Anyway, as with other minority groups, the issue of racist or stereotyped characters has faded, but the issue of quantity of good roles, particularly leading or main character roles, remains.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

it was not until the rise of Bruce Lee that Asian-American actors managed to break into heroic starring roles.

Yes, it was a chinese guy- Bruce Lee- who broke the ice.

My fav portrayal of a japanese. . . . waz the japanese foreign exchange student in the movie, "Sixteen Candles".

2 ( +3 / -1 )

@zones2surf

Well said. Yeah I guess Japanese actors (born and raised in Japan as opposed to non-Japan Japanese) have it pretty tough with the language, etc.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I once had some drinks at a nice house in the Hollywood Hills. It was owned by a young and soft-spoken but smart guy name Brian. Was surprised to learn he played the goofy Japanese guy in Police Academy. i wouldn't have recognized him if he hadn't told me. It seems to have paid the bills anyway.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

That 'struggle' must have escaped me somehow... First time I noticed a Japanese/person of Japanese origin in a US movie was in "Westward the Women" (1951). Henry Nakamura's 'Ito Yoshisuke Takeyoshi Gennosuke Kentarō' - while acting as a comic sidekick to Robert Taylor - was not only fully literate but also full of wisdom and charm.

The beautiful and hilariously 'subversive' 1956 comedy "Teahouse of the August Moon" introduced Kyō Machiko to western audiences. And Marlon Brando succeeded in his role as Okinawan villager Sakini nicely enough - viewers drawn to the movie by his name complained afterwards that he hadn't been in the movie at all...

Anyway, it's not all black-framed glasses and buck teeth. To find the gems one just has to dig deep enough into movie history...

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Sorry, but there's not that much stereotyping at all, especially if you take into the account that most of the stereotypes mentioned are incorporated into Japanese society every day. Just this week there is a protest against the new mascot presented for the Ama women (the women who dive for pearls) because it is a large breasted, seductive school girl, which they think is obscene. This fits right in with the complaint that Hollywood "potrays Japanese women as geisha-like and seductive", etc. Meanwhile when Inception came out, as they noted, some years ago, and even with other movies which they also mentioned (ie. Kill Bill), they DON'T follow stereotypes, unless you want to bash Japanese manga or something.

And then we don't even need to touch much on the fact that Japanese media still has "Westerners" portrayed by Japanese wearing pinocchio noses, or that rap music in Japan is called "Black music", etc., if you want to point out stereotypes.

Now, the last point of the article has some truth to it -- that Japan is often being passed off in favor of China in terms of actors and content, but a lot of that has to do with a lack of talent and/or English speaking ability with Japanese actors (or actors of Japanese descent), whereas there are HEAPS of Chinese actors who can speak English, as well as Koreans. The Chinese also don't freak out if something about China is slightly off in a film based on/in China (ie. like so many freaked out here about historical elements in Japan when it came to The Last Samurai or Sayuri), although they do kowtow to China when it comes to toning down rhetoric.

-2 ( +6 / -8 )

It is kind of strange that the writer did not consider probably the most iconic depiction of a Japanese male in U.S. cinema during the 1980's - Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid (1984). As exotic as his character was made to contrast with Ralph Macchio's character, he was absolutely portrayed as an honorable, humble and heroic man. Also, it is relevant to point out that Hollywood actively edited screenplays to downplay any offense towards the Japanese during the same period. For example, the villains were changed in Sean Connery's Rising Sun (1993) from the novel so they were not Japanese in the film. Also, the Japanese police characters in Michael Douglas' Black Rain (1989) were portrayed sympathetically as honorable and dedicated. It seems like this writer took the lazy route of deciding on a victimization narrative and ignoring reality. There is no other way to take with a straight face to think that Hollywood films commonly invoke "stereotypical film motifs.....(including) scenes featuring “nyotai-mori,” in which morsels of sushi are artistically served from atop the torso of a nude female." Just try to name one, let alone two, off the top of your head.

16 ( +16 / -0 )

"The question about future portrayals is a little complicated..."

True. Take for example Ken Watanabe's recent role in "The King and I" on Broadway. The musical was originally produced by the American team of Rogers and Hammerstein, based on an American novel about the memoirs of a British schoolteacher in Thailand. And in this case a Japanese actor is playing the role of a Thai king. Very complicated indeed.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

@dcog9065,

The question you ask about Japanese actors making it in Hollywood is a really good one. If you mean Japanese nationals (as opposed to those of Japanese ethnicity, like Japanese-Americans), there really have not been that many over the years: Takakura Ken, Watanabe Ken, Sanada Hiroyuki, and, of course, Mifune Toshiro. All actors. I really can't think of any actresses that have made it, other than maybe one role. Like Koyuki.

There, of course, have been a number of Japanese-Americans that have had decent careers in Hollywood over the years, both male and female.

And this gets to some of the core issues here. First, there is the question of the number of roles available. Historically, you would have roles that specifically called for a "Japanese" or an "Asian" character. And these were limited. Conversely, for roles that did not require "Japanese" ethnicity, the idea of casting a person of Japanese or Asian ethnicity has been an uphill battle.

The second issue, of course, is language. And the ability to speak English. Like it or not, many available roles require at least some English ability. And this is where Japanese actors and actresses are at a natural disadvantage.

There are actually some decent actors and actresses in Japan. But their ability to make the transition to Hollywood is limited because of their limited English language skills.

Just my views.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

I think the most bizarre Asian character of all was "Cato" (or Kato), played by Burt Kwouk in the "Pink Panther" films. Once he was lurking in a refrigerator and attacked inspector Clouseau with a flurry of screams and karate chops when Clouseau opened the door to put his supermarket purchases inside. Of course Peter Sellers was hardly kind to the French either, with his portrayal as an incompetent detective.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Is there any other high profile Japanese actor who's made it to Hollywood besides Ken Watanabe? I generally see this as an indication of the poor quality acting stock here in Japan. One only needs to watch any random scene from any Japanese movie or TV show to see just how poor the quality is..

3 ( +6 / -3 )

TV and movies are entertainment products. They aren't publicly funded public service announcements. They are products created with private money, in order to make profits.

If you don't like it, don't buy it.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Guess they haven't seen Pacific Rim or the TV show Heroes.

The Japanese characters in there became pretty bad ass, and could have easily been, say, Americans or Chinese instead. Why use Japanese characters? Because they want the show to sell in Japan and cash in.

Sure, there is a problem with stereotyping, but honestly there's a bigger problem in lack of Asian talent for Hollywood when compared to, say, Europeans.

This is not at all to say Japanese actors are without talent, just that..for whatever reason (ambition / language barrier / sheer numbers / ???) "White People" sell in Hollywood.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Yeah, lucky this kind of thing doesnt happen the other way around. Imagine if anyone on Japanese TV were to put on fake noses and blond wigs or paint their faces black to stereotype a particular race......oops.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

If it makes me laugh it is all good. It is entertainment and not reality. If people think movies are reality, then they need to get a life.

-3 ( +4 / -7 )

She cites the 1986 comedy film “Gung Ho,” a politically incorrect comedy...

Typical of the gags in the film is one where lead star Michael Keaton, an autoworker invited to his boss’s home for what he assumes is a home-cooked Japanese dinner. Smacking his lips, he compliments his hostess, saying “Mmm, this is great! What do you call this anyway?” “Meat roaf?” comes the puzzled reply.

The meat loaf scene is certainly a poor example of "politically incorrect comedy," but it is a fairly conceivable portrayal. I think most people who as adults had their first substantial encounters with Japanese people have experienced their own meat-loaf-scene moments. I certainly did.

The movie "Gung Ho" is a humorous and fairly realistic look at the clash of cultures on both the Japanese and U.S. sides that took place in the 1980s when scores of Japanese manufacturers first began setting up operations in rural America, fully expecting workers to adopt Japanese work practices and mannerisms. In reality, it caused considerable tension on both sides, but perfect material for comedy.

Many of the scenes in that movie really hit home for me after having worked with Japanese people for some years.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Japan! Bong!!!!

Cue flute, smokey pine covered mountains, and a whole lotta nothing.

0 ( +6 / -6 )

Interesting topic, but I just wish someone had done a better job of writing the article. It just seemed like a mish mash of ideas that were just thrown together and that wasn't really a cohesive article that had a natural flow to it. And it was really light on examples of films to illustrate how things have evolved.

American movies (and TV) has been filled with both racist and stereotyped roles for "Japanese" characters since virtually the beginning of the industry. I put "Japanese" in quotes because sometimes the characters were actually intended to be Japanese nationals, sometimes they were intended to be of Japanese ethnicity (meaning Japanese-American, for example), and sometimes there was just some sort of weird Japanese/Asian hybrid, meaning that being Japanese was secondary to the "Asian" ethnicity.

However, I would also note that this is not unique to "Japanese". Hollywood has struggled with its portrayal of many minorities in film over the years. And not just in their portrayal but in the actual volume of roles and characters reflecting these minorities.

This article notes a couple of the more outlandish "Japanese" characters. The "Yunioshi" character in Breakfast at Tiffany's is now just downright jarring, while the characters in "Gung Ho" were only slightly better (at least they used actors that were Asian ethnicity). And then, of course, there was "Memoirs Of A Geisha", which had non-Japanese in leading roles.

However, setting aside the numerous WW2 movies over the years, there have been those films that actually had Japanese characters that were substantive and interesting. And not terribly bad. "The Yakuza" was actually a really good movie with some great characters. Maybe some stereotyped material, but some decent characters. Including a young Takakura Ken. "Black Rain" is another. Some great acting and some great characters in this movie. Mastuda Yusaku was great in one of his last, if not last movie roles. And a number of others.

The question about future portrayals is a little complicated, because it is a question of where the character/role depends on the individual being Japanese/of Japanese ethnicity or whether the ethnicity is secondary. For example, was Watanabe Ken's character in inception dependent on him being Japanese or not? And, of course, language. Is the dialogue supposed to be in Japanese or in English?

Progress has been made, for sure, but I also note that it really seems that the roles are still far and few between with only a limited number of actors and actresses able to feature in these roles.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

Choice for the "most derogatory" award has got to be a toss-up between Jerry Lewis in "Geisha Boy" and Tim Conway, who once impersonated a Japanese soldier in an episode of "McHale's Navy"

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Mickey Rooney's portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi is truly cringe-worthy, and much more of an embarrassment to the U.S. than to Japan (much as today's Caucasian and African American caricatures in Japan are an embarrassment to this nation). Mickey Rooney himself later came to regret having played the character.

Still, consider the context. This is in 1961 America when memories were still very fresh of Japan as a seemingly invincible military powerhouse along with stories of Japanese brutality and wartime propaganda illustrating fear-inspiring caricatures of IJA soldiers.

Mr. Yunioshi was the flip-side of this dreaded caricature — a hapless, harmless, non-threatening and likeable idiot, generating laughs rather than terror. So I can see why this might have appealed to many of that era when people in the U.S. were still trying to rectify a positive notion of Japan as friend rather than foe, loveable rather than hateful.

10 ( +11 / -1 )

Like the klutzy photographer “Yunioshi” in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s?”

Certainly one of the worst and not half as good a movie as too many Japanese think.

Don't forget Kissy Suzuki in "You Only Live Twice."

6 ( +6 / -0 )

So....not 70 years of stereotyping at all then?

11 ( +13 / -2 )

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