Film / Sayonara

Sayonara is a 1957 film directed by Joshua Logan, starring Marlon Brando. The 2nd most quintessential Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow movie, after The World of Suzie Wong.

Lloyd Gruver (Brando), a United States Air Force Major stationed in Korea whose father is a four-star general and who is prejudiced against Asians, is irritated that many of his friends and associates are marrying Asian women (something which the U.S. Military as a whole strongly disapproves of). He is transferred to a desk job in Kobe, Japan, under command of his father's friend—three-star general Webster (Kent Smith). Lloyd is engaged to Webster's daughter, Eileen (Patricia Owens), but he doesn't seem particularly attracted to her. Reluctantly, he serves as the best man at the wedding of his crew chief Joe Kelly (Red Buttons) to local woman Katsumi (Miyoshi Umeki). Gruver finds his prejudices challenged when he himself falls in love with the beautiful Takarazuka actress/dancer Hana-ogi (Miiko Taka)...

By today's standards, the film largely comes off as dated—perhaps even racist—between the 50s melodrama and stereotypical portrayal of Japan and Japanese women. In 1957, however, a film portraying Japan and interracial marriages in a sympathetic light was a risque rarity, especially considering that Joshua Logan had initially wanted Audrey Hepburn for Taka's role, and that the book it was based on ended with Gruver and Taka deciding that they would never be compatible and breaking up.

Earned Best Supporting Actor for Red Buttons and Best Supporting Actress for Miyoshi Umeki—making her the first and only Asian performer to win said award.

Has absolutely nothing to do with 2015's contemplative film Sayonara by Kouji Fukada, set in a post-apocalyptic Japan.

This film provides examples of:

  • Ace Pilot: Gruver. He is annoyed when he's taken off combat duty in Korea to ride a desk in Japan while getting married to The General's Daughter.
  • Beta Couple: Kelly/Katsumi and Eileen/Nakamura.
  • Disposable Fiancée: It doesn't take very much for Gruver to dump Eileen. Justified in that from the beginning, it seems like he's marrying her only because he's supposed to.
  • Film of the Book
  • Going Native: Kelly starts adopting Japanese dress and Japanese customs after marrying Katsumi.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Both the U.S. government and the USAF strongly disapprove of servicemen marrying Japanese women, so Kelly gets in a lot of trouble when he marries Katsumi.
  • Melodrama
  • Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow: As noted in the introduction, one of the most iconic examples, as Gruver and Kelly both take up with Japanese women, who are both subservient to their men. Somewhat subverted in the case of Kelly, who starts taking on more Japanese customs after marrying Katsumi.
  • Scenery Porn: Some really lovely color photography of Japan.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Gruver, to an extent. He's rattled after he sees the face of the last enemy pilot that he shot down.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Kelly and Katsumi.
  • Stupid Sacrifice: Kelly's been ordered back to the States by his vengeful, racist, petty CO. Due to America's racist immigration laws and the racism endemic to the USAF, he can't take his pregnant Japanese wife home with him. So...Kelly will ride out his enlistment and then return to Japan, right? Send money via Western Union until he's out of the Air Force, right? Right? No, he and his wife will kill themselves instead.
  • Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo: All the women in Japan are dancers in theater troupes, apparently.
  • Title Drop: The very last line in the movie. When reporters hound Gruver to comment on the backlash he is expecting from his superiors for marrying a Japanese woman, he answers, "Tell 'em I said 'Sayonara.'"
  • Together in Death: One of the definitive cinematic examples, as Kelly and Katsumi are found in an embrace.
  • Yellowface: Part of the Fair for Its Day ethic motif that this film reeks of. Averted in the case of the two Japanese women that Gruver and Kelly fall in love with. However, apparently it was asking too much of audiences in 1957 to have an Asian man romance a white woman, so Ricardo Montalban, a Mexican, was cast as Eileen's love interest Nakamura.