An Unforgettable Holiday: A look at Japan’s love for Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn is mostly remembered as a Golden Era Hollywood legend and a fashion icon. Her star image embodies enduring beauty, grace, and kindness–both on and off the screen. She survived World War II, which later influenced her to become a humanitarian. As a pre-teen ballerina, she helped the resistance in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands, and her harsh childhood motivated her to dedicate her later years to children as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. (Fun fact: Hepburn is an EGOT, and her Grammy was for Best Spoken Word Album for Children.)

Among her most well-known films are My Fair LadyBreakfast at Tifanny’s–arguably celebrated for the fashion icon Hepburn’s character made her rather than for the film itself–and her Hollywood debut, Roman Holiday.

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Last year, Vogue Japan tweeted about the star

Roman Holiday‘s the charming 1953 movie that follows a lively but sheltered princess who, suffocated by her duties, escapes to explore Rome and falls in love with a journalist. The film is responsible for igniting Japan’s love for the star, according to TCM:

Surprisingly, it wasn’t a huge hit in the U.S., though that would be more than made up for by its success overseas. On its initial run, it was one of the most popular U.S. films shown in Europe. It was a hit all over again in Moscow in 1960. And it was a surprise hit in Japan, where young women just beginning to feel the need for independence chose Hepburn as their role model. Years later, Wyler (the director, parenthesis mine) was amazed to tour Japan and see women there wearing her hairstyle from the film.

With her slim, slender figure and sweet, delicate features, Audrey Hepburn presented a new beauty standard in a Hollywood where the likes of Marylin Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor–with curvy bodies and sex appeal as a big part of their images, basically–reigned supreme. With her type of beauty and her star image, I find it fitting that out of all the female stars of her era, she was the one who resonated in Japan.

The Tokyo Files recompiled multiple appearances of the star over the decades in a post called Audrey Hepburn Stalks Japan: like meeting Emi Chieri while she was auditioning for the Japanese adaptation of My Fair Lady, a popular manga adaptation of Roman Holiday, magazine covers, manga and dramas inspired on her Breakfast at Tiffany’s look, passing mentions of her role in Roman Holiday in a “hey, everyone totally knows this reference” way and a lot more. (Seriously, the title of that post is not exaggerating. Go check it out!)

Now, Emi Chieri was a big deal. She was part of Sannin Musume, meaning she was one of the biggest female entertainers in early post-war Japan, besides being considered one of the most popular singers of the Showa Era (1926-1989). I can imagine that Emi Chieri being photographed alongside Audrey Hepburn must have been huge. Curiously enough, Izumi Yukimura (also part of Sannin Musume) has been referred as a Japanese Audrey Hepburn.

This is mentioned in the recompilation I linked, but since I’m talking about stars of the era (and I find it noteworthy) I’ll also mention it here as well.

Kyu Sakamoto was notably the first Asian (and the only Japanese) artist to reach the top spot in the Billboard Hot 100, when his iconic song Ue o Muite Arukou reached the states in 1963. The song’s name was changed to the dish Sukiyaki for English speakers–as in, actual food that has nothing to do with the song… yeah. Anyway. When Sakamoto visited the states, he requested to meet Audrey Hepburn. In other words, here’s a notable Japanese artist, and what does he ask for as soon as he’s in the same country? You see my point. (It didn’t happen because she was busy, so he went to Disneyland instead.)

I’ve come across other homages to Audrey Hepburn’s role in Roman Holiday, like the one in Tada Never Falls in Love‘s OP (the plot of the show itself borrows inspiration from the movie). There’s also that lovely Creamy Mami illustration by the legendary character designer and artist Akemi Takada (she used at least two stills as reference).

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At the beginning of the month, I asked on twitter if anyone has seen Audrey Hepburn homages in Japanese media, partly because I was randomly thinking about it, partly because I wanted to see more examples in anime, specifically. Here are the answers!

Update: I found Audrey on Princess Tutu!

For a straight-forward declaration of Japan’s love for the star, this article titled Audrey Hepburn’s neck from The Japan Times has us covered:

“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.”

Also this, just for funsies:

“Did you know,” my friend slobbers, the tic having spread to both eyes, “that my wife has seen ‘Roman Holiday’ 18 times? That she wears her hair bobbed just like the Hepburn character in the movie, Princess Ann? And that every morning she likes to pretend she’s having breakfast at Tiffany’s?”

I answer him the only way I can. “So what?” My own Japanese wife has seen “Roman Holiday” 30 times, and for years she slept with a giant poster of Audrey Hepburn tacked right by her bed. Then when we planned our first overseas trip minus our kids, there was only one place she wanted to go:

“Rome!” she cried, echoing you-know-who in you-know-what. “By all means, Rome!” So we went.

Well. Have you seen Audrey Hepburn in Japanese media?


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