The Role Yamashiro Plays Representing Japan In Films

With iconic status in the Los Angeles dining scene, Yamashiro Restaurant also crosses into architectural and movie infamy. Its centuries-old pagoda, flown in from Japan and plopped on the hillside overlooking Hollywood Boulevard, is the oldest known structure in California, according to Yamashiro. From a 250-foot-high perch, the restaurant has seen a lot of Hollywood action over 100-plus years as a community favorite. The ornate eatery, built by East Asian artisans to resemble a Japanese palace near Kyoto, hosts a colorful parade of film stars, business tycoons, wedding parties, and global tourists every year.

If Yamashiro looks vaguely familiar, there's a reason for that. The mansion's exterior serves as a natural backdrop in photographs and videos, while the intricately designed interior rooms and Japanese gardens provide the authentic setting for major Hollywood films, television shows, and hit series. Originally built to house the massive Asian art collection of two cotton barons from Germany, according to Culture Trip, the palace and Asian-fusion restaurant has always enjoyed its status as a harbinger of artistic endeavors.

Japanese presence in Hollywood

Yamashiro's stage presence hearkens back to at least the 1950s, hosting classic television scenes from the likes of "Perry Mason," "I Spy," and "My Three Sons." The restaurant cemented its place on the big screen after becoming an officer's club for Marlon Brando's 1957 film "Sayanoro," which earned an Academy Award, per Culture Trip. From there, the string of film credits has included "Gone in 60 Seconds," "Blind Date," "Kill Bill," "Outpost," "Death Wish 2," "Playing God," and many more, notes Yamashiro.

But perhaps the most Japanese-centric story to be filmed at Yamashiro is the 2015 "Memoirs of a Geisha," winner of three Academy Awards and dozens more industry accolades, per IMDb. The setting is pre-World War II and depicts the hardships of young Japanese geishas who were sold to save their families from poverty. More recently, the cast of "Bling Empire," the 2021 Netflix hit series showcasing Asian American food and chefs in LA, appears in Yamashiro's manicured Japanese gardens. The scene depicts a birthday party hosted by fashion photographer Yu Tsai, per Tudum, an official Netflix website.

Detractors, including a Los Angeles Times columnist, weigh in on cultural appropriation issues with Yamashiro, calling it inauthentic and decrying its National Register of Historic Places listing — despite being a largely Western enterprise. However, Japanese community leader Bill Watanabe told the LA Times that Yamashiro has likely had a positive effect on the interpretation of Japanese culture in America, igniting curiosity and raising awareness of Japanese-American struggles.