“It’s my job to teach these Okinawans democracy — and they’re going to learn democracy if I have to shoot every last one of them!”
In post-WWII Japan, a bumbling American captain (Glenn Ford) is sent to Okinawa to set up a school and bring democracy to the village. Once there, his wily interpreter (Marlon Brando) helps him understand that the villagers have different goals in mind — including gifting him a geisha girl (Machiko Kyo) and convincing him to use American funds to build a teahouse instead of a school. A visiting military doctor (Eddie Albert) is soon lured into helping with agriculture, and he and Ford assist the village in selling homemade brandy; it’s up to Ford’s promotion-seeking superior (Paul Ford) to set everything straight.
Based on the Pulitzer Prize- and Tony-winning 1953 play by John Patrick (itself based on a 1951 novel by Vern Sneider), this “occupation comedy” arouses immediate suspicion and distaste given the casting of Marlon Brando as a Japanese man — but he’s surprisingly effective and inoffensive, most likely due to his genuine love of the play and respect for his craft. According to TCM’s article:
The role of Sakini had been played by David Wayne on Broadway, but since he had little track record in movies, the part went to Marlon Brando who had loved the play so much he saw it three times. Brando intended to use some of his salary to finance a United Nations film program in Asia. True to his reputation, he worked on making his role as authentic as possible, studying the motions and spoken accents of real Okinawans though he had to adapt the language slightly to be more intelligible to American audiences.
Meanwhile, DVD Savant writes that Brando’s character is “a natural prankster who uses his charm and guile to completely derail Captain Fisby’s [Ford’s] mission. He completely manipulates the situation by selectively interpreting, or misinterpreting, Fisby’s words.” Indeed, the entire film handily mocks America for trying to impose democracy wholesale onto a different culture, and it’s refreshing watching the villagers quietly and insistently get what they want. As Savant — who argues the film “takes a bit of getting used to” — notes:
… It’s disconcerting at first to see the presentation of the Okinawans as ‘cute’ and inoffensive ‘little people.’ Only slowly do we realize that they are the ones in control of the situation, and by the end the film is awarding them full respect while lampooning the American military as hopeless dummies.
Beautiful Machiko Kyo — star of Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950); the Academy Award-winning Best Foreign Picture Gate of Hell (1953); Kenzi Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu (1953), Princess Yang Kwei Fei (1955), and Street of Shame (1956); Yasujiro Ozu’s Floating Weeds (1959); and Kon Ichikawa’s Kagi (1961) — acquits herself very nicely, and is especially delightful during an initial tussle with Ford as she struggles to get his clothes off.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Amusing lead performances
- Beautiful Technicolor cinematography
No, but it’s worth a one-time look.