Keep on Wondering...

What are the connections between social and historical forces and the representations we see?
Why is yellowface still acceptable? When and how did yellowface turn into whitewashing?
How do these representations create and/or perpetuate stereotypes that are present in our world? What is the impact?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mr. Yunioshi

Make it stop!!!!!
"The worst of the worst
The most hated and cursed
Is the one that we call [Mr. Yunioshi]"

Look at his buck teeth. The intense yellowface - hello major darkening of the skin and some scary slanted eyes. The awful, stilted accent. The screechy, "Ah so!" when he pops up out of the bathtub. The yelling of "Miss Gorightry!" The portrayal of a cranky, nearsighted, short and stereotypical Japanese man - a step away from the direction that Crimson Kimono was going in. There is nothing pan-Asian-ist about Mr. Yunioshi. He wears a kimono, and his name isn't exactly one you could apply to any old "type" of Asian - it's specifically Japanese. Oh, the irony. 

Depressingly enough, Mr. Yunioshi was a character in the Truman Capote novella of the same name - and he was referred to as "that Jap." And that doesn't need much explanation, does it? Thankfully, he doesn't make many appearances in the book; however, he becomes a more prominent character in the film version, acting as Holly Golightly's landlord and lighthearted, blatantly racist "comic" relief. 
The fact that this is Mickey Rooney from Babes in Arms and all that Andy Hardy stuff is (for me) absolutely heartbreaking and disappointing. Mickey Rooney. Dear old Mickey Rooney from Night at the Museum 1. The guy who voiced Kris Kringle in that stop-motion version of Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town. Mickey Rooney donned some of the worst yellowface I have seen so far and got praise and recognition for it. The New York Times wrote of his performance: "Mickey Rooney's bucktoothed, myopic Japanese is broadly exotic." Everyone loved it. Everyone thought it was hysterical and funny and... accurate, apparently. Of course, he has since apologized for the portrayal, saying that "It breaks my heart. Blake Edwards, who directed the picture, wanted me to do it because he was a comedy director. They hired me to do this overboard... Never in all the more than 40 years after we made it -- not one complaint. Every place I've gone in the world people say, 'God, you were so funny'... It's terribly sad and I feel bad for the people taking offense." He even said later that he wishes someone had told him about how his portrayal might be a bit offensive, because then he would have changed it. Blake Edwards even said, "Looking back, I wish I had never done it...and I would give anything to be able to recast it, but it's there." But do you see how uninformed Blake Edwards and Rooney were? They wanted to use the "Jap" as comic relief, as a throwaway character with no real importance without thinking of the repercussions this portrayal had. Does their ignorance make them racist? Mr. Yunioshi is undoubtedly a racist caricature, but does this mean that their creators are racist? They both seem to have been expressing remorse for their interpretation and regretting the portrayal - but that doesn't change the fact that thousands of people saw the film, saw the portrayal, and unconsciously (or consciously, take your pick) applied it to all Asians (or all Japanese, take your pick). This film was made in a time when you would not have any blackface whatsoever, but it was apparently okay to make fun of Asians! Why? Is this the model minority thing? We won't raise a stink about an unfavorable portrayal, while other minority races will? Disgusting. 

Play that [chinky] music, [Henry Mancini]? Hear those xylophones and the jazzy "Oriental" music? Every time I hear some sort of cinematic "Oriental" music, it makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry. It's so false and situated around gongs and zithers and that stupid little riff - you know, the "dunh-nuhnuhnuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuhhhhh" one. And get this! Most of the time, the scores that sound like this one wee written by white composers! Who knew?! Now is it offensive and annoying because it was written by a white composer? Or is it offensive and annoying because we hear it so often in conjunction with movies that have offending and questionable portrayals of Asians in them? Are the connections and connotations between the acting and the music what annoy us? Or is it the music itself? After listening to the above song, I'm going to say it's a mixture of both.
Some argue that Charlie Chan or Long Duk Dong have been the most damaging stereotypes to the Asian/-American community; however, I feel that the cheap "comic" relief provided by Mr. Yunioshi stands out as an extremely racist portrayal. In case my readers (hello, all!) haven't noticed, I tend to refrain from using the word "racist" to describe certain portrayals because I feel that it's a very strong word to use. Other portrayals I tend to use "stereotyped" or "wrong," and I think that most of those stereotypes are. They definitely have racist undertones, but it depends on whether the portrayal is (I think) a trying-to-be positive portrayal or not. Something may have racist undertones, but it may not be blatantly and negatively racist. If I apply the word "racist" to every portrayal I come across, it will lose it's meaning. That said, I think that Mr. Yunioshi is one of the most extremely racist caricatures - he's right up there with Fu Manchu. He has none of the "Oriental wisdom" that Charlie Chan (detested as he is) possesses. He is not polite or subservient to anyone (that could be a good thing, but then again, no). He is the perpetual foreigner - he has an awfully exaggerated accent and... dear lord the buck teeth. Everything about Mr. Yunioshi is just too much to handle. Makes me want to cry. So awful. He sends the message (loud and clear!) that this was an acceptable way to portray Asians - or, specifically, Japanese people. This was 1961 - you'd think people would have seen this as racist - but did they?? Apparently not! They considered this hysterical! Funny! Comic relief! Blatant racism!!!
If you fast-forward through every Mr. Yunioshi scene, it's a decent movie. It's just the awful stereotype that ruins it. Whoopee. 


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  2. That's nice. Care to explain why?

  3. The character Yunioshi is fabulous. Rooney was phenomenal. Take your liberal righteous nonsense and shove it. Where I come from we have a sense of humor and laugh.

    1. No, it does not need liberal righteous logic,
      the character Yunioshi is the fact, not funny.

      It seems like you are mindlessly defending this because of nostalgia
      but being nostalgic is one thing,
      just because something is older doesn't instantly good.

      Or you just have a terrible sense of humor.

  4. Mr. Yunioshi makes the movie. What's your problem?