Friday, September 28, 2012

Theme One: Mr. Yunioshi Review (Breakfast at Tiffany's)

I must first start off by saying that the typical girly-girl in me loves this movie. I can pop this in on a rainy day, crawl under the covers and just enter the world of Holly Golightly.

However, I won't review Breakfast at Tiffany's here, because doing so would draw away from what's really important for this blog: The observation and evaluation of Mr. Yunioshi, played by Mickey Rooney in the dreaded yellowface.

Widespread criticism of Mr. Yunioshi didn't start until the 1990s, but either way--the character has always been a negative portrayal of Japanese men and the use of yellowface to bring the character to life has never really been something to be taken lightly. 

Mickey Rooney as "Mr. Yunioshi"

Producer Richard Sheppard recently stated that even early on he tried to convince director Blake Edwards to cast someone of Japanese descent in the role, but of course he went unheard. Mickey Rooney and Blake Edwards would later express their deep regret of the situation later in their lives--when the criticism first became widespread.

Mickey Rooney

If Breakfast at Tiffany's were originally a film and not based off a book, I would easily say that the character of Mr. Yunioshi was just the creators' way of throwing in a "necessary" racial stereotype. I think this character's only purpose was to call the police--and anyone of any race, gender, or nationality can do that. Did Holly's landlord have to be Japanese? Did he have to be a bumbling Japanese man as well?

I think in order to truly understand Mr. Yunioshi's purpose, one must read the novella to know what Truman Capote really wanted us to take from the man. 

Also, in glancing over a few things about the novella I noticed that there were some interesting changes made in bringing the book to the screen (think Cat on a Hot Tin Roof changes)--so who's to say that Yunioshi didn't suddenly go under some major transformation when he was brought to the screen?

(Photo from

What did YOU think about Mr. Yunioshi?

Have you ever read Truman Capote's novella?


  1. I have only seen the film once, but a part of me sort of wants to know what were the Japanese stereotypes for that day and age? I mean, Post WWII Japanese I would assume would be portrayed as cowards, like you see in the Bugs Bunny and other cartoons but, was that the general view of them at the time?

    Which leads me to ask? What lead Rooney to play the character that way, If you know?

  2. aigespeaking10/6/12, 2:37 AM

    I'll have to do some pretty good research on the view of Japanese people after WWII because I really don't have the slightest idea or hint.

    As for Mickey Rooney--he went from being one of the youngest and biggest stars of the 1930s/1940s to having to play "character acting roles" as he got older. Same old Hollywood story--huge star one day, nearly forgotten the next. I'm going to assume (like a lot of white actors) that he didn't think that playing a Japanese man would be offensive or wrong. It may have been just another "character acting" role for him. Playing Mr. Yunioshi may have just been a job that he was in no capacity to decline.

    Even after the movie came out, he said that Asian people would actually come up to him and commend him for his portrayal, so I guess he REALLY felt comfortable with it for a good while.

  3. I have read the novella. It's worth noting that it's set in the middle of WWII, and Yunioshi is said to be from California. It's tough to see that as anything other than he was hiding from the authorities, and avoiding the relocation camps such as Manzanar. He's not called a Nisei (2nd generation), but that's almost certainly what he would've been, and thus without a noticeable accent at all. He's said to be a photographer tramping around Africa after the war, and he has seen Holly there.

    So all in all, I think Capote had a cultured survivor in mind, not a cartoon character.

    As to why Rooney played him that way, he says it was because Blake Edwards, the director, told him to go for broad laughs. {shrug} Imagine the director of The Pink Panther saying that.

    1. Wow! Thank you so much for your comment. I definitely have to read the novella. Puts things in a very different perspective. Thank you so much, Hal!

  4. Kind of reminds me of Janoy Cresva, in the Biopic My Story Part 8. Where he plays a spanish jew but is clearly italian. Ether way Rooney and mr Cresva probally regret there alternate racial expression on film.


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