Review by Ty McLemore
Marlon Brando, Red Buttons, Ricardo Montalban and Patricia Owens
This lavishly produced, Irving-Berlin-scored masterpiece is a mix of hope, despair and fatalism that will ultimately leave the viewer mentally and emotionally taxed.
“Ace” Lloyd Gruver (Marlon Brando) is a decorated Korean War pilot on leave to Kobe, Japan for a short term of rest and leisure. Once there, Joe Kelly, (Red Buttons) an airman under his command, is set to marry a Japanese woman despite military regulations that forbid it. Kelly asks Gruver as his best man – an offer he initially declines, but reconsiders after sensing Kelly’s deep love for the woman.
Meanwhile, Gruver’s fiancé, Eileen, (Patricia Owens) has been secretly ferried to the island. Their pairing is short lived as she learns that Gruver’s intentions for marriage are born out of a sense of duty rather than love. As their relationship begins to unravel, Gruver is drawn to a beautiful Japanese dancer named Hana-Ogi. He enlists the help of Kelly’s wife Katsumi in arranging a tryst for the two of them.
Problems arise for Kelly when a vindictive and racist colonel arranges for his departure back to the states – without his new bride. Out of options and nearly out of time, the couple commit suicide rather than face the consequences of separation.
As Gruver and Hana-Ogi’s relationship is also brought to light, they must decide whether their own forbidden love is worth the risk of losing everything they have achieved.
There is a reason why many regard Brando as the greatest actor of all time. His effortless glide between two characters - the simple, and at times, comical, southern gentleman to the handsome, rugged and imposing Major Gruver, leaves no doubt about his place in cinematic history.
From the way his coat is tossed over his arm, the manner in which he points out directions or the style in which he cradles his cap while addressing military brass – it’s pure Brando at his coolest and smoothest.
Conversely, casting Miiko Taka as his female counterpart was sheer movie moxie. The Marilyn Monroe-esque bombshell with breathy speech, pouty lips and exotic beauty may have been MGM’s best method of softening the sting of an interracial romance in the 1950s.
Who Would Like it and Why
Anyone who loves Brando or a well-written, well-acted, dramatic love story.
Who Might not Like It and Why
Those who may be offended by racist language or stereotypes. One example involves famed actor Ricardo Montalban in the role of Nakamura, a Japanese dancer in an all-male theatrical troupe. Epic films as this, however, must be taken in their proper context. In the 1950s it was a normal occurrence in casting standard actors to play the roles of minorities.
As Gruver and Hana-Ogi meet for the first time, he nervously babbles on with small talk while she remains stoic and motionless. Afterwards, she speaks of her stature as Japan’s premiere dancer and proclaims that despite the danger that awaits them, she is MORE than willing to engage in an illicit romance. Furthermore, she says that when it is over she will NEVER love another.
Her boldness leaves him speechless. She begins to pour a cup of Saki as the screen fades to black. This is by far my favorite scene of my favorite Marlon Brando movie.
There is a constant undertone here about one having an obligation to oneself first. Gruver and Hana-Ogi are accomplished, high-ranking individuals who have lived their entire lives pursuing what was EXPECTED of them, rather than what they wanted. As the door begins to close on their last chance at happiness, they must decide whether obligation trumps passionate, ever-lasting love.