My wife learned the salty taste of tears at a young age when she and her best friend from kindergarten graduated to different schools the following year. For several months they maintained a steady correspondence requiring stationary in the form of themed letter sets レターセット. One letter set was emblazoned with the image of a beautiful young woman. Who is this? My wife asked. Her mother replied: Ōdorī Hepubān オードリー・ヘプバーン.
Audrey Hepburn’s appeal in Japan is well documented by Japan observers, so I won’t try to explain why she has been so popular. Let me simply share with you some of the various places where I’ve come across Audrey Hepburn. She pops up in so many places that I may eventually come to the conclusion that she is stalking all of us in Japan.
(0) Audrey Hepburn and Eri Chiemi
In 2012, when I first discovered Eri Chiemi, it was via a movie whose opening sequence reminded me of the early-dawn scene from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. However tenuous, that post provided my first shared context between Audrey Hepburn and Eri Chiemi. That context expanded when I learned that Eri Chiemi had starred as Eliza Doolittle in the 1963 Tokyo production of ‘My Fair Lady’ 『マイ・フェア・レディ』, and even auditioned against Hepburn for the film production of My Fair Lady (one of Hepburn’s more famous roles).
While auditioning, Hepburn and Chiemi posed for this photo from 1964 (source):
The idea of Eri Chiemi starring as an Englishwoman may be amusing, but so too is the idea of Hepburn playing a Japanese woman in Sayonara (1957); the role went to Miiko Taka 高美以子. Here’s an interesting note from IMDB:
“Hepburn was offered the role of a Japanese bride opposite Marlon Brando in Sayonara (1957) but turned it down. She later explained that she “couldn’t possibly play an Oriental. No one would believe me; they’d laugh. It’s a lovely script, however, I know what I can and can’t do. And if you did persuade me, you would regret it, because I would be terrible’“.
(1) Same-sex attraction in an Ozu movie?
(2) Manga version of Roman Holiday
(3) “…like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday”
(4) It will be Breakfast at Tiffany Someday
(5) Peeking from storefronts and windows
Hepburn graces the entrance of a storefront in a still from the excellent Netflix series, Hibana 火花:
A more somber Hepburn can be seen in the window of 花野苑, a flower shop in Oimachi (map).
(6) Kyoto traffic cop (2005)
I’ve had this photo in my files for years. Who is this, and what’s her connection to Audrey Hepburn?
This is Ai Kato, a student and traffic cop who was profiled in a 2005 New York Times photo essay of Japan. (Style; Murmurings of a Geisha). The Times notes:
“Kato, 19, still lives with her parents outside Osaka but is working her way toward independence. She has a weakness for Tanizaki books and Audrey Hepburn films.”
(See also: Japan’s Women Police, 1946 and beyond)
(7) Screen Magazine covers (1954-1962)
Various covers for SCREEN スクリーン magazine, 1954-1962 (source).
(8) Bookstores and coffee shops (2017)
Without any effort I encounter Audrey on a shelf in an Ebisu coffee shop, and find two titles on the shelves of a Shiodome bookstore.
The books include:
『ローマの休日』を観るだけで英語の基本が身につくDVDブック (“DVD book where you can master English basics just by watching “Roman Holiday'”)
「ローマの休日」で英語がどんどん話せるようになるDVDブック (“A DVD book that will make you more fluent in English by watching “Roman Holiday”)
(9) Roman Holiday theater performances (2016)
(10) Breakfast at Tiffany’s retro poster in Ome, TokyoRoman Holiday theater performances (2016)
The small, hilly, and lovely town of Ōme 青梅市 is about 1.5 hours west of central Tokyo. Before you leave the station you are greeted by vintage movie posters, which you will also see throughout the town. Note, this seems to have come to an end: “End of an era in Ome, as credits roll for retro movie posters”, Asahi Shimbun, October 19, 2018 (broken link).
(11) Saying goodbye with Kyu Sakamoto
Kyu Sakamoto’s mega-hit 上を向いて歩こう (aka “Sukiyaki”) was on the American pop charts in 1963. In Los Angeles that year, Sakamoto, at the height of his overseas popularity, expressed interest in meeting Audrey Hepburn. She said no. As consolation, he went to Disneyland (Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-pop, page 249).
It’s fitting to end this post here, since Sakamoto’s life is so well known for its shock ending. To avoid leaving on a sour note, let’s listen to Sakamoto’s famous song. I’m certain Sakamoto would have serenaded Hepburn with this had she granted him an audience.
Audrey Hepburn events and information in Japan:
- Information and fan-site (Japanese): オードリー・ヘプバーンといつも2人で / “TWO FOR THE ROAD with Audrey Hepburn” オードリーのパンフレット・写真集・サントラなどグッズのいろいろ…たまに緊急でオードリー関連情報も！
- Audrey Hepburn photo exhibit (and gift shop!) at Art Gallery M84 in Marunouchi, Tokyo.
Audrey Hepburn and Japan
- Why is Audrey Hepburn popular in Japan? (Quora)
- Quote from Kickboxing Geishas: How Modern Japanese Women Are Changing Their Nation (page 73): “Dressed in a slim-fitting black turtleneck and charcoal gray cardigan, she reminds me of the Japanese obsession with Audrey Hepburn. So many Japanese women posses her easy elegance.”
- Audrey Hepburn’s neck, by Thomas Dillon (The Japan Times). Highlights include:
“An overexposure that once prompted the following comment from my vacationing mother: “What’s the matter with these people? Don’t they know she’s [Audrey Hepburn] dead?” And has been dead for nearly a decade.”
“My wife was not the only one to think so. Guests from Japan crowded all the “Roman Holiday” highlights. And 70 percent of visitors to Hepburn’s grave in Switzerland come from Japan.”
“OK,” I now cut straight to the source of sources. “Hepburn herself, when asked why the Japanese loved her so, put it this way: ‘It’s curious. Maybe I just look Japanese.’ “
“Hers is a mournful beauty,” my wife has said. “In ‘Roman Holiday,’ Princess Ann has to surrender her love — her dream — for family duty. She does so reluctantly, yet with grace. We Japanese admire that. Especially in the early ’50s, what with the wreckage of the war and with everyone giving of themselves for the sake of the nation, we understood such sacrifice well.”
Audrey Hepburn in Japan
- Audrey Hepburn in Kyoto (1983)
- “We all went to Japan as a family in 1983 to celebrate 30 years of Givenchy. None of us were prepared for the reception Audrey’s first visit to Japan would generate. Today she is still the most beloved actress ever in Japan. (Audrey Hepburn, An Elegant Spirit: A Son Remembers, 1998)
- Radiant photos of Audrey Hepburn, legendary singer wearing kimono surface online
- “Japan’s Crown Prince Akihito enthralled over Audrey Hepburn’s ordeal as the Princess in Roman Holiday” at the Music Hall [New York],” (St. Petersburg Times, September 26, 1953)
- “Recently, while in Japan on business, she was literally mobbed by fans.” (The Times News, Hendersonville, North Carolina, June 6, 1983)
Audrey Hepburn and Sayonara
- Source: The 50’s: The Story of a Decade (The New Yorker, page 174)
Roman Holiday in Japan
- The ‘1953 problem’ copyright case 年問題 (Japanese Wikipedia)
- 水野英子『ローマの休日』をめぐる微妙な問題 Eiko Mizuno “Subtle problems surrounding the Roman Holiday”
- Per this site, the Roman Holiday manga was unauthorized and “went unpublished in paperback form for decades because of copyright issues…It was originally published in Ribon in 1963. It is pretty much a direct ripoff of the movie, but it’s really cute and easy to read.”
- Some Japanese love hotels “duplicate the sets of movies popular in Japan, such as Roman Holiday or Gone With the Wind.” (source)
- Hideko Mizuno was once a member of Tokiwaso manga house (I believe).
Rieko Kawasaki (1964 Olympics)
As chronicled in The Olympians, in the lead-up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Dentsu published a book that was meant to provide a positive image of the Japanese. The “Faces of Tokyo” section of the book “intended to leave the foreign reader the impression that the Japanese, in 1964, are indeed savvy internationalists…Dentsu selected Reiko Kawasaki as the face of the young model, likely because she evokes a young Audrey Hepburn.”
Various Hepburn-related Tweets on Japanese Twitter: