• Sayonara

    Released by: Twilight Time
    Released on: November 14, 2017
    Director: Joshua Logan
    Cast: Marlon Brando, Patricia Owens, Ricardo Montalban, Martha Scott, Miyoshi Umeki, James Garner, Red Buttons, Miiko Taka
    Year: 1957
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    The 3rd highest-grossing film of 1957 and Warner Bros.’ biggest box office hit of that year, Joshua Logan’s visually lavish and emotionally nuanced romantic drama Sayonara is one of the more interesting films to star the brilliantly mercurial Marlon Brando in the years before the screen icon’s increasing appetites and eccentricities threatened to permanently derail his acting ambitions. The film was adapted from the 1954 novel by James Michener by screenwriter Paul Osborn (East of Eden) and directed by Logan with the same skill and maturity he brought to his earlier screen successes Picnic and Bus Stop, which respectively helped make movie stars out of William Holden and Marilyn Monroe.

    At the center of Sayonara is a very thoughtful and poignant love story between Brando’s gentlemanly Air Force fighter pilot Major Lloyd Gruver and the Japanese theater dancer Hana-ogi (Miiko Taka) he becomes infatuated with when he is taken off active duty in Korea and transferred to a base in Kobe, Japan. Unfortunately, it is cocooned within more than two hours of dull, plodding dramatic conflict that bears all the emotional impact of being put on hold by the cable company. It’s a shame though, because the story of Sayonara was a bold one to be told just a little over a decade following the end of World War II, when atomic-scarred Japan was still recovering from the devastation the country suffered while mending relations with the U.S.

    The son of an Army general, Gruver finds himself reassigned to Japan at the behest of Lieutenant General Webster (Kent Smith), whose daughter Eileen (Patricia Owens) is engaged to be married to the young major. Marriages between officers and enlisted men and Japanese women are becoming common, and though Gruver is initially opposed to them, he nonetheless supports his friend and crew chief Joe Kelly (Red Buttons) in his relationship with Katsumi (Miyoshi Umeki) and agrees to be Joe’s best man at their wedding. Interracial marriages are expressly forbidden by the U.S. military, but there is little they can do to discourage them except refuse any sort of coverage for the Japanese wives of soldiers.

    Commitment is a vital theme in Sayonara; Gruver is committed to his duties in the Air Force and his impending marriage to Eileen, and Hana-ogi is committed to the theater troupe to which she has devoted her life and has imposed strict rules on the social life she can have outside its influence. The bigotry faced by those who dare defy society’s norms in the name of love have some predictably Shakespearean consequences for some, but as this is a big budget Hollywood romance shot in sumptuous “Technirama” by cinematographer Ellsworth Fredericks (the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers), at least our attractive lead lovers are guaranteed a studio-mandated happy ending that only feels half-earned in this case.

    Spewing forth his dialogue buried under a painfully artificial Southern accent, Brando is merely adequate in a part that requires little in the way of actual emoting. He is matched well by Taka, lovely and haunting in her screen debut. Sayonara was probably the best film she ever did, though she also acted opposite another screen legend – Cary Grant – in his final film Walk Don’t Run. Despite their first scene together not occurring until more than an hour into Sayonara, Brando and Take generate the chemistry requisite in making their relationship believable enough to sustain the third act plot machinations.

    Red Buttons (The Poseidon Adventure) takes top acting honors as the man willing to stand up to his own military to be with the woman he loves, but Patricia Owens (The Fly) and James Garner (The Rockford Files) both gave excellent supporting performances as well. In particular, Owens managed to create a three-dimensional character with little material and screen time. The only cringeworthy aspect of an otherwise fine cast is the embarrassing yellowface bit from the great Ricardo Montalban (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) as Hana-ogi’s fellow Japanese stage performer Nakamura. Montalban is fine, but there is no reason why the role couldn’t have gone to an actual Japanese actor. In a typical sign of 1950’s Hollywood progressivism, an intelligently-portrayed interracial love story has to be uncomfortably marred by the film industry’s lunkheaded refusal during that transitional era in its history to employ more performers of diverse ethnicities.


    Sayonara has had many distributors over the years. Released theatrically by Warner Bros., the film received its earliest VHS editions through CBS/Fox and Key Video and a laserdisc produced by Image Entertainment. For nearly two decades, MGM has held the rights and subsequently released VHS and DVD editions in the U.S. and Europe.

    Twilight Time’s Region A Blu-ray release of Sayonara features a transfer sourced from a high-definition master prepared by MGM and is presented in the film’s original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio in full 1080p resolution. The studio’s restoration efforts successfully resurrect the lush visual splendor of Sayonara that have not been done justice by years of cropped home video and cable television framings. The picture is awash in a full range of vibrant colors – blues and pinks dominate here – and the grain content, while at its heaviest during the opening scenes, settles into a moderate and consistent amount shortly after. Skin tones appear natural, while the resolution upgrade reveals interesting details in the Japanese locations and U.S. studio interiors that add to the authenticity the filmmakers strived to achieve.

    The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track aims to recreate the listening experience of Sayonara’s original 4-track theatrical release stereo mix as best as possible with laudable results. The integration of the dialogue with the dramatic score composed by Franz Waxman (Sunset Boulevard) is accomplished without one threatening to overpower the other, but during the multiple performance numbers the music is given ample space in the mix to create an immersive effect. English subtitles have also been provided.

    The only extras are the original theatrical trailer (4 minutes), an isolated music and effects track in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, and liner notes written by Twilight Time’s resident film historian Julie Kirgo.

    The Final Word:

    Removing around 30-40 minutes from its bloated 147-minute running time might have made Sayonara something special, but despite its tender interracial romance and willingness to confront the racism of the time in which it was made, the film suffers from a plodding pace and not enough dramatic weight. Fans of Joshua Logan’s love story will find much to enjoy about Twilight Time’s new Blu-ray release, though it is pretty barren in the supplements division.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!