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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, December 17, 2004


Meet the real fellow behind those holiday menehune commercials

By Wade Kilohana Shirkey
Advertiser Staff Writer

He's the elf everyone loves to love.

But truth be told, he's really a menehune — with an expressive face. But one of Santa's North Pole real elves drops into his village in this year's Ala Moana Center holiday commercials and Center Stage production.

"E, you stay lost?" Mele the Menehune (Bryan Yamasaki) teases Merry the wayward elf (Kris Fitzgerald).

"E, we go beach," Yamasaki, the quick-witted, "street-smarts" menehune cajoles, with characteristic kolohe-ness in another commercial.

"Whea your slippahs?" he asks the little elf, now of pink bunny-slipper fame.

Bryan Yamasaki

Yamasaki's trademark quips — "E, brah, you lost?" and "E, we go beach!" — are heard as often on bus, beach and bar as they are in commercials. The merry little menehune's quotes are being bantered around like holiday greetings.

You've seen Yamasaki's jovial face — minus the little pointy menehune ears — before. He's a veteran of local stage, TV mini-series ("Blood of the Samurai") and TV commercials. He was cast in friend Lisa Matsumoto's trilogy of Island pidgin productions: "Once Upon One Time," "Once Upon One 'Nodda Time," and "Happily Eva Afta." (Matsumoto wrote the book on which the the Ala Moana stage production is based.)

Yamasaki says he used to freeze up to the point of nausea in early acting roles. And his mesmerizing stage singing voice comes benefit of no formal training, he said.

He was an unwitting — almost unwilling — actor. "I put off taking speech forever!" he said grimacing. "I HATED oral book reports in school."

He studied to become an accountant — and became a house painter instead. His thrust into acting was happenstance — accompanying friends to a Matsumoto audition — and getting the part.

Yamasaki admits he's "not the quiet, friendly little menehune in the commercial." "I'm usually the loud obnoxious guy at the party, out on the sidewalk, talking loud, and calling attention to himself," he joked.

He grew up speaking half pidgin, half The Queen's English, and switches between the two at a moment's notice.

The pidgin in the play and commercials works wonders for the kama'aina audience, said Yamasaki. "The play's about us. It sounds like us."

Now the commercials follow him, although his typical jeans, T-shirt and baseball cap demeanor is nowhere like his menehune stage persona.

Said the bachelor, 35-year-old Kaimuki grad, "I'll go to a club, and the first thing out of folks' mouths, is 'E, you stay lost?!' "

In public, he gets the "Don't I know you from somewhere?!"

His family is proud, Yamasaki says, but it's a bit problematic for his 6-year-old nephew: "My brother called and said, 'You have to talk to Raiden. He's a little concerned about your (little pointed menehune) ears' in the commercial."

Will there be more episodes in the endearing series of Ala Moana commercials? For once, the charismatic menehune is silent.