Directed by Joshua Logan
Written by Paul Osborn based on a novel by James A. Michener
Pennebaker Productions/William Goetz Productions
I last saw this film on a black-and-white TV. It was even better than I remembered.
Major Lloyd Gruver (Marlon Brando) is a famous flying ace and the son of a four-star general. He is ordered to leave his combat mission in Korea for light duties in Kobe, Japan. The transfer was organized by a friend of his father, a three-star general, in hopes that propinquity will finally motivate Gruver to marry his daughter and Gruver’s childhood sweetheart, Eileen. Gruver is glad to see Eileen but even Eileen realizes there is little passion about the relationship.
Joe Kelly (Red Buttons), a man in Gruver’s unit, is determined to marry Katsumi (Miyoshi Umeki) a mild, sweet Japanese girl who speaks almost no English. Such marriages are vigorously discouraged by the military and Japanese wives are not allowed to accompany their husbands to the U.S. Gruver counsels Kelly against it but he is adamant and Gruver agrees to be best man at the wedding. Eileen’s father and mother are aghast.
Eileen cautions Gruver not to marry her unless he is completely sure and gives him time to think about it. With this time on his hands, he accompanies his friend Captain Bailey (James Garner) to the theater where he becomes infatuated with the leading actress Hana-Ogi. Her father and brother were killed by American bombs and the theater prohibits dating so she ignores him. But the strong physical attraction eventually results in a passionate affair.
Both the interracial relationships in the story will be severley tested. Gruver’s test will prove to be a coming of age for the pilot. With Martha Scott as Eileen’s mother and Kent Smith as her father.
I remembered the story pretty well but was too young to focus on Brando’s performance I suppose. I thought he was outstanding. He is required to adopt a good ol’ boy Southern accent yet be thoughtful throughout and was totally believable to me. The story is both touching and infuriating. The supporting performances are very strong. There is perhaps some unnecessary exoticism but I wasn’t offended. Recommended.
For some reason, the female roles are played by Japanese women but the only major Japanese male role is played by Ricardo Montalban. There is a mild suggestion of his amorous interest in Eileen. I suppose the studio was ready for white men with Asian women but not the reverse at the time.
Sayonara won Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Buttons), Best Supporting Actress (Umeki), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, and Best Sound, Recording. It was nominated in the categories of: Best Picture; Best Actor (Brando); Best Director; Best Writing, Screenplay based on Material from Another Medium; Best Cinematography; and Best Film Editing.