Movie Review: Sayonara (1957)

Hey, off with the shoes. You don’t wear shoes in a Japanese house.

-Joe Kelly-

There are not major spoilers in this review!

Japanese Culture on the Big Screen

The legacy of Sayonara is similar to the legacy of Gone with the Wind. Both are outdated and had stereotypes of certain races. These types of movies are either regarded as classics to be remembered or classics that are irrelevant. I’m willing to watch anything once regardless of when it was made and who starred and produced it. With this being said, Sayonara was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won four for Best Supporting Actor, Actress, Art Direction, and Sound Recording. The script was adapted from a James Michener novel and directed by Joshua Logan. I have to give Sayonara credit for casting mostly Asians in Asian parts except for Ricardo Montalbán and for highlighting racism in such a way that is quite effective in its realiism.

The Breakdown of Sayonara

Sayonara is about a U.S. Air Force Major, Lloyd “Ace” Gruver, who is stationed on an Air Force Base in Japan. He is close friends with Joe Kelly who tolerates Ace’s disappointment of his future marriage to Katsumi. As Ace watches their relationship, he realizes they are truly in love with each other and agrees to be a part of his wedding. When Ace passes time watching Kabuki performers, he becomes smitten with one named Hana-ogi. His current lover, Eileen, realizes this change in attitude and forms a friendship with Nakamura, a Kabuki performer. Meanwhile, Joe and Katsumi struggle to live among people who see their love as immoral. Ace has some decisions to make about his love life and seeks advice from Captain Mike Bailey. Neither one is able to stop the power Lt. General Mark Webster has and eventually Ace leaves but not before watching Hana-ogi perform one last time. The main cast is Marlon Brando as Major Lloyd “Ace” Gruver, Patricia Owens as Eileen Webster, James Garner as Captain Mike Bailey, Martha Scott as Mrs. Webster, Miiko Taka as Hana-ogi, Miyoshi Umeki as Katsumi Kelly, Red Buttons as Airman Joe Kelly, Kent Smith as Lt. Gen. Mark Webster, Reiko Kuba as Fumiko, Soo Yong as Teruko, Ricardo Montalbán as Nakamura, and Douglass Watson as Colonel Crawford. This romantic drama is NA and has a running time of two hours and 7 minutes.

Watch the Trailer

Overall View of Sayonara

Despite his known difficulty on set, the earlier films of Marlon Brando are some of the greatest performances I’ve seen. I could watch most of his movies again and again especially On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire, Mutiny on the Bounty, The Godfather, and Apocalypse Now. He’s not the only actor who shines in Sayonara. Miyoshi Umeki and Red Buttons won Oscars for their supporting roles and the performances of Miiko Taka drew me into the film too. Between the two different romantic relationships, Ace and Hana-ogi’s had the more outdated dialogue, and some of it downright cheesy. My initial reaction to the bathtub scene between Katsumi and Joe was “dude, wash your own body,” but from a different angle it was them sharing their love for one another. It’s definitely a commentary on interracial marriage and opposition to it. All in all it’s a good movie and one that shouldn’t be discounted. I recommend it for the performances and production design as those are my top two reasons to watch it.

Sayonara rating: THREE FINGERS of GOOD at 80%

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