The Teahouse of the August Moon (film)

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The Teahouse of the August Moon
Teahouse movieposter.jpg
original film poster
Directed by Daniel Mann
Produced by Jack Cummings
Written by John Patrick
Vern J. Sneider (novel)
Starring Marlon Brando
Glenn Ford
Machiko Kyō
Paul Ford
Music by Saul Chaplin
June Hershey
Kikuko Kanai
Don Swander
Kikuro Kanai
Cinematography John Alton
Edited by Harold F. Kress
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
December 1956 (1956-12)
Running time
99 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3,926,000[1]
Box office $8,925,000[1][2]

The Teahouse of the August Moon is a 1956 American comedy film satirizing the U.S. occupation and Americanization of the island of Okinawa following the end of World War II in 1945. The motion picture starred Marlon Brando and was directed by Daniel Mann.

John Patrick adapted the screenplay from his own Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning Broadway play of 1953. The play was, in turn, adapted from a 1951 novel by Vern J. Sneider.[3] The film was entered into the 7th Berlin International Film Festival.[4]


Misfit Captain Fisby (Glenn Ford) is sent to Americanize the village of Tobiki on Okinawa, the largest of the Ryukyu Islands. His commanding officer, Colonel Wainwright Purdy III (Paul Ford), assigns him a wily local, Sakini (Marlon Brando), to act as interpreter.

Fisby tries to implement the military's plans, by encouraging the villagers to build a school in the shape of a pentagon, but they want to build a teahouse instead. Fisby gradually becomes assimilated to the local customs and mores with the help of Sakini and Lotus Blossom, a young geisha (Machiko Kyō).

To revive the economy, he has the Okinawans manufacture small items to sell as souvenirs, but nobody wants to buy them. These include cricket cages and wooden Japanese footwear called Geta. Then Fisby makes a happy discovery. The villagers brew a potent alcoholic beverage in a matter of days, which finds a ready market in the American army. With the influx of money, the teahouse is built in next to no time.

When Purdy sends psychiatrist Captain McLean (Eddie Albert) to check up on Fisby, the newcomer is quickly won over. This, even after Fisby greets McLean wearing Geta, an army bathrobe (which Fisby claims is his kimono) and what Fisby terms an "air-conditioned" straw hat (the latter being headwear worn by Okinawan farmers). McLean later proves to be enthusiastic about organic farming.

When Purdy doesn't hear from either officer, he shows up in person and surprises Fisby and McLean, the latter wearing a yukata or summer-weight kimono. Both are leading a rowdy song at a party in full swing in the teahouse. Purdy orders the building destroyed, but in a burst of foresight, the villagers only dismantle the teahouse instead.

Ironically, the village is chosen by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers SCAP as an example of successful American-led democratization. This leads to the teahouse being reassembled without threat of destruction by Colonel Purdy.


Playing the role of an Okinawan villager was to prove an interesting challenge for Marlon Brando's method acting techniques. He spent two months studying local culture, speech, and gestures and, for the actual shooting, spent two hours daily having make-up applied to make him appear Asian.[5] The success of his role is perhaps best captured by the number of people who watch the movie looking for Brando and then complain that he isn't even in it.[citation needed]

The role of Colonel Wainwright Purdy III was to have been played by Louis Calhern, but he died in Nara during filming and was replaced by Paul Ford.[6] Ford had played the part more than a thousand times, having been one of the Broadway originals, and he would play a similarly bumbling, harassed colonel hundreds of times more in Phil Silvers' TV series Bilko.

Ford was not the only actor who went on to be cast in a television series role very similar to his Teahouse character. Like the psychiatrist Captain McLean, Eddie Albert's "Oliver Wendell Douglas" on Green Acres (1965-1971) was a licensed professional with an advanced degree, who obsessed about the glory of farming and yearned to give up his practice in favor of tending the soil.

The film made use of Japanese music recorded in Kyoto and sung and danced by Japanese artists. Machiko Kyo (Lotus Blossom) had won acclaim for her dramatic performances in Rashomon and Gate of Hell, so this lightly comedic part was a departure for her.[7]


Recent restoration of the film has apparently left some edits where memorable lines have been lost.[citation needed]


The film was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Motion Picture Promoting International Understanding. A 1971 musical version of the play Lovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen ran two weeks on Broadway, closing after just 19 performances.

Box Office[edit]

According to MGM records the film earned $5,550,000 in the US and Canada and $3,375,000 elsewhere, making it the studio's biggest hit of the year and earning a profit of $1,507,000.[1]


Alongside Japanese War Bride and the more famous Sayonara film, The Teahouse of the August Moon was argued by some scholars to have increased racial tolerance in the United States by openly discussing interracial marriages.[8] Other scholars have argued that the movie is one in a long list stereotyping Asian American women as "lotus blossom, geisha girl, china doll, or Suzie Wong" by presenting Asian women as "passive, sexually compliant and easy to seduce" or as downright prostitutes,[9] although the actual script as shot in the movie makes it clear that the common association of geisha with prostitution is incorrect, creating a learning opportunity for Captain Fisby. Furthermore, while Lotus Blossom is graceful and lady-like, both she and the village women are self-assertive, energetic and even feisty. While a romance does develop toward the end of the movie, Lotus Blossom is never seduced or manipulated, so it is hard to understand the criticism in light of these portrayals.

In more recent years, the movie has been criticized by some critical theorists and Brando's performance branded as an example of yellowface casting.[10][11] In addition, there has been some criticism that even though Brando is supposed to be an interpreter fluent in the local language, his character does little actual translating, which is also true of the original play. This was presumably because to do so would require any American actor in the role to be more fully conversant in the local dialect. Also, the play and the film never explains why, in a rural Okinawan village, the spoken language is more standard Japanese instead of the local Okinawan dialect. Of course, the average American filmgoer of the 1950s (or even today) was not in a position to notice these cultural discrepancies, or to be aware of the actual history of Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands.


  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study .
  2. ^ US and Canada take see "All Time Domestic Champs", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  3. ^ Sneider, Vern J. (1951). The Teahouse of the August Moon. New York: Putnam. OCLC 429098. 
  4. ^ " Awards for The Teahouse of the August Moon". Retrieved 2009-12-30. 
  5. ^ Thomas, Tony, The Films of Marlon Brando, p. 97 
  6. ^ trivia, IMDb 
  7. ^ Thomas, Tony, The Films of Marlon Brando, p. 100 
  8. ^ Sarah Kovner (2012). Occupying Power: Sex Workers and Servicemen in Postwar Japan. Stanford University Press. pp. 65–66. ISBN 978-0-8047-8346-0. 
  9. ^ Edith Wen-Chu Chen (2010). Encyclopedia of Asian American Issues Today. ABC-CLIO. pp. 644–645. ISBN 978-0-313-34751-1. 
  10. ^ AsianWeek (2007-11-28). "The 25 Most Infamous Yellow Face Film Performances". Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  11. ^ "Yellowface: A Story in Pictures :: | Advocating for Equality in Entertainment". 2009-12-09. Retrieved 2012-08-15. 

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