Sayonara (1957)

Sayonara (1957)

“I find myself becoming intrigued by everything in Japan.”

A soldier (Marlon Brandon) stationed in Japan during the Korean War serves as best man when his friend (Red Buttons) marries a Japanese woman (Miyoshki Umeki); soon he falls in love himself with a beautiful Japanese singer (Miiko Taka). Brandon’s former fiancee (Patricia Owens) and her general-father (Kent Smith) try to warn Buttons and Brando that their actions are against military regulations, but the men’s love is stronger than the institutionalized racism that surrounds them.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Cross Cultural Romance
  • James Garner Films
  • Joshua Logan Films
  • Marlon Brando Films
  • Military
  • Race Relations and Racism
  • Red Buttons Films
  • Ricardo Montalban Films

Joshua Logan directed this adaptation of James Michener’s novel about the taboo of cross-cultural romances in the 1950s. Brando’s “natural” performance (he was apparently a childish pill on set) doesn’t really fit with the overall tone of the film; faring much better is Oscar-winning Red Buttons as an “ordinary” G.I. whose love of his Japanese wife feels much more grounded and authentic than Brando’s semi-stalking (orientalist?) fascination with beautiful Taka. To its credit, the film tackles challenging topics such as institutionalized racism, reminding or informing modern audiences exactly how racist and nationalist both America and Japan were during this era. Meanwhile, the movie is gorgeously filmed in Technirama, making it a visual treat.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Red Buttons as Joe
  • Beautiful cinematography and sets

Must See?
No, but it’s certainly worth a one-time look.


One thought on “Sayonara (1957)

  1. A once-must, for its subject matter. As per my post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “Maybe that’s because you don’t feel as strong about your girl as I do mine.”

    ‘Sayonara’ (1957): It would be fascinating to know just how many films, over the years, have been made that address bigotry / racism. Maybe hundreds. It would also be fascinating to know (though there’s no way of knowing – and such films tend to preach to the choir) just how many times someone watched such a film and changed his / her mind… and grew up. … ‘Sayonara’ – possibly Joshua Logan’s most successful film artistically (along with ‘South Pacific’) – makes the subject matter more complicated, since the racism in it is mixed not only with the amount of enmity or paternalism that were residuals of post-WWII relations but also certain cultural restrictions in Japan that, at the time, had nothing to do with xenophobia and everything to do with local codes of honor. Overall, it’s an extremely touching film – and my quibbles with it are on the minor side, but they’re there: Brando’s character mispronounces his true love’s name – the first part of Hana-Ogi is not pronounced as ‘Hanna’ but ‘Hahna’; I mean, yes, it’s not that important, I suppose: it’s only her frickin’ NAME! … The first time Brando is introduced to certain customs during a Japanese dinner, he thinks a small hand towel is something to eat (!) and a small sake cup is something used for washing the eyes (!). Such mistakes are way beyond naive. … There’s an over-emphasis on attending various kinds of Japanese theater. Wouldn’t straight guys also maybe want to take in a Japanese baseball game? … This time out, Brando turns in a particularly sensitive, subdued performance and he plays opposite naturally gifted newcomer Miiko Taka (in a role originally turned down by… Audrey Hepburn!!!). In return for their poignant depiction of doomed love, Red Buttons and Miyoshi Umeki received Oscars.

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