Sayonara ( 1957 Classic Movie )

Review by Ty McLemore


Joshua Logan

Lead Actors

Marlon Brando, Red Buttons, Ricardo Montalban and Patricia Owens


William Geotz

Plot Synopsis
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 fiancĂ©, 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.

Top Scenes
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. 


  1. Irving joked incessantly about changing his name, since anything called Berlin was subject to being dissected into quarters and labeled.

    That punishment would befit any man who committed the egregious act of attaching his name to this low-budget monstrosity.

    As for Brando, the only "Greatest" title he was worthy of was in caloric consumption. His overinflated opinion of himself was rivaled only by his girth.

    He should have salvaged his last bit of honor by disemboweling himself in the first five minutes of this dreadful, stomach-churning film.

    1. Are there any movies that you like, JL?

    2. I have the utmost disdain for American movies and what they represent. However, there are those few, rare gems that I believe are worthy of my mention.

      "THE MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN" is one of those crown jewels that is not only ahead of its time, but worthy of undying praise.

      "SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT" is yet another piece of artistic perfection that is not only misunderstood, but vilified by those who are clueless as to what true cinematic excellence is.

  2. Retired Brigadier General Addison LeighSeptember 19, 2012 at 8:43 PM

    I remember being stationed on the island as a young, naive and exuberant 22-year-old in 1956.

    I was taken aback by the exquisite beauty of not only the country, but its women as well. Watching this gem brought back an array of memories, including me kissing a beautiful Japanese woman in one of the pagodas just outside of town.

    Brando and the rest of this sensational cast should be commended for the outstanding job they did in bringing such a heartwarming and triumphant story to life!!!

    1. wow, must have been a great time to be alive! Is there not an actor today who can compare to the great Brando?!

    2. Retired Brigadier General Addison LeighOctober 9, 2012 at 4:58 PM

      . . . it was most definitely a great time to be alive. Brando, in my opinion, is unmatched in terms of his onscreen presence, depth and brilliance.

  3. . . . I was cast as an extra in the main dance scene where Gruver first catches Hana-Ogi's show.

    I was born in Arizona a few years after Miiko and as a Japanese-American I was honored to be chosen for the part.

    When Brando was in the audience during filming, we actually had a woman swoon and have to be taken to a medical facility for observation.

    1. so this movie was made when Brando was still hot? It must have been right after on the waterfront, no?

    2. Brando was still hot in his 40s and 50s. Rumor has it that he bedded his then 19-year-old co-star Maria Schneider while filming LAST TANGO IN PARIS in 1972.

      I would have certainly been unable to resist his advances had he turned his attention to me while we were on the set.

    3. I was in an acting class of Brando's, waaaaayyyyyyyyyy back when. I thought, who is this brute. This street person. We here are clothed and ready for work yet he smells of sweat and looks as if he has indulged in hard labor.

  4. wow, very passionate review, I never even considered this movie, and it makes me wonder how many more there are by Brando that I haven't seen. Also, what of the director, it makes me curious what else he has done. Very Very interesting.


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