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Theatrical release poster
Directed byJoshua Logan
Screenplay byPaul Osborn
Based onSayonara
by James Michener
Produced byWilliam Goetz
CinematographyEllsworth Fredricks
Edited by
Music byFranz Waxman
Pennebaker Productions
William Goetz Productions
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • December 5, 1957 (1957-12-05) (New York premiere)
  • December 25, 1957 (1957-12-25) (US)
Running time
147 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$26.3 million

Sayonara is a 1957 American romantic drama film directed by Joshua Logan, and starring Marlon Brando, Patricia Owens, James Garner, Martha Scott, Miyoshi Umeki, Red Buttons, Miiko Taka and Ricardo Montalbán. It tells the story of an American Air Force pilot during the Korean War who falls in love with a famous Japanese dancer. The screenplay was adapted by Paul Osborn from James A. Michener's 1954 novel of the same name.

Unlike many 1950s romantic dramas, Sayonara deals squarely with racism and prejudice.[1] The picture was released by Warner Bros. on December 25, 1957, to critical acclaim and commercial success. At the 30th Academy Awards the film was nominated in nine categories and won four, including Best Supporting Actor for Buttons and Best Supporting Actress for Umeki. The latter award made Umeki the first East Asia-born woman to win an Oscar.


United States Air Force fighter pilot Major Lloyd "Ace" Gruver, the son of an Army general, is stationed at Itami Air Force Base near Kobe, Japan. He has been reassigned from combat duties in Korea by General Webster, the father of his fiancée, Eileen. While Ace and Eileen have been together for years, their relationship has become strained.

Airman Joe Kelly, Ace's enlisted crew chief, is about to wed a Japanese woman, Katsumi, in spite of the disapproval of the military establishment, which will not recognize the interracial marriage because it is generally illegal under American law. The Air Force, including Ace, is against the marriage. Ace and Joe have an argument during which Ace uses a racial slur to describe Katsumi. Ace eventually apologizes, then agrees to be Joe's best man at the wedding.

Ace falls in love with a Japanese entertainer, Hana-ogi, who is the lead performer for a Takarazuka-like theater company, whom he meets through Katsumi. Eileen realizes that Ace's attentions are no longer focused on her and begins a friendship with a famous Kabuki performer, Nakamura. After overhearing that Joe's house has been under surveillance by the Army, she believes that Ace is in danger and goes there to warn him.

Joe suffers further prejudice at the hands of openly hostile Colonel Crawford, pulling extra duty and all the less attractive assignments. When Joe and others who are married to Japanese are targeted for transfer back to the United States, Joe realizes that he will not be able to take Katsumi, who is now pregnant. Ace goes to General Webster and pleads Joe's case, asking that he be allowed to remain in Japan. When the General refuses on the grounds that he cannot allow an exception, Ace says that he will be in the same situation, since he intends to marry Hana-ogi. Eileen and her mother are present for the exchange, and Ace apologizes for hurting her. Eileen realizes Ace never loved her the way he loves Hana-ogi and leaves to see Nakamura.

Joe and Katsumi's home is boarded up by the military police and Ace is taken into custody by General Webster, where he is confined to quarters. He is told that he will most likely be sent back to the United States and Hana-ogi will be sent to Tokyo. Joe goes AWOL, and two Military Police seek Ace's help to find Joe through his local connections so he can be sent back to the U.S. and not be reported missing, which could lead to charges ranging from deliberately missing a movement — a serious offense in wartime — all the way to desertion. Ace, accompanied by Captain Bailey, finds Joe and Katsumi who had secretly returned to their home and committed double suicide rather than be parted. Hana-ogi later arrives unnoticed and alone outside Joe and Katsumi's home. There, she opens a window and, still unseen, whispers a tearful "sayonara" to Joe, Katsumi, and Ace, although nobody hears her. Hana-ogi then leaves through the rear gate.

After exiting Joe's home, Ace and Bailey are attacked by Japanese holding anti-American signs. However, sympathetic Japanese neighbors intervene to help the Americans, resulting in widespread fighting in the street. Ace and Bailey escape during the scuffles.

The loss of Joe strengthens Ace's resolve to marry Hana-ogi, and Ace goes to the theater company to find her. There, he learns Hana-ogi has already left Kobe for Tokyo a week ahead of schedule. General Webster, believing the crisis with Ace is averted, apologizes for what happened to Joe and Katsumi and says that laws will soon be passed to allow interracial marriages in the United States.

Ace leaves Kobe and flies to Tokyo. He tracks down Hana-ogi at her new venue in a Tokyo theater and pleads with her again to become his wife. They leave the theater and Hana-ogi announces to the waiting Japanese and American reporters that they intend to wed. When a military newspaper reporter asks Ace how he will explain his marriage to the "big brass" as well as to the Japanese, Ace says, "Tell 'em we said, 'Sayonara.'"



According to director Joshua Logan, Marlon Brando was the first choice. He turned it down so they offered the part to Rock Hudson who had too many obligations at Universal. They tried Brando again who was reluctant, so they offered the female lead to Audrey Hepburn. Brando eventually agreed to do it if they changed the ending of the novel so the two lovers got married instead of the American leaving. When Hepburn turned him down, he looked to cast an unknown actress.[2] Miiko Taka, who at the time was working as a clerk at a travel agency in Los Angeles, was discovered by a talent scout at a local Nisei festival.[3] She was cast despite having no previous acting experience.[2] Logan cast Ricardo Montalbán after claiming he was unable to find a Japanese actor for the role.[4]

Brando affected a nondescript Southern accent for Gruver, despite the objections of director Logan, who did not think a Southern accent was appropriate for a general's son who was educated at West Point. Logan later admitted to the author and journalist Truman Capote about Brando, "I've never worked with such an exciting, inventive actor. So pliable. He takes direction beautifully, and yet he always has something to add. He's made up this Southern accent for the part; I never would have thought of it myself, but, well, it's exactly right – it's perfection."[5] Ricardo Montalbán, born in Mexico to Spanish immigrants, plays a Japanese character in “yellowface” makeup. Montalbán modeled his performance on Seki Sano, a well-known Japanese acting teacher under whom he had trained.[6]

Garner wrote in his memoirs that he actively lobbied to play his role, one of the few times in his career he did this. It had originally been cast with John Smith, but Garner succeeded in getting the part.[7]


The song "Sayonara Goodbay" was written by Irving Berlin.


Sayonara received widespread critical acclaim, particularly for its writing and cinematography, in addition to the acting ability of its cast. It won four Academy Awards, including acting honors for co-stars Red Buttons and Miyoshi Umeki. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 82% of critics out of 57 have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 7.6/10, with the website's critics consensus reading, "As sumptuously staged as it is ponderously paced, Sayonara flutters by on the strength of its touching story and solidly assembled cast.".[8]

It was number one at the US box office for five consecutive weeks in 1958.[9] It earned $10.5 million in theatrical rentals in the United States and Canada[10] and $5 million overseas.[11]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[12][13] Best Motion Picture William Goetz Nominated
Best Director Joshua Logan Nominated
Best Actor Marlon Brando Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Red Buttons Won
Best Supporting Actress Miyoshi Umeki Won
Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium Paul Osborn Nominated
Best Art Direction Ted Haworth, Robert Priestley Won
Best Cinematography Ellsworth Fredricks Nominated
Best Film Editing Arthur P. Schmidt, Philip W. Anderson Nominated
Best Sound Recording George Groves Won
British Academy Film Awards Most Promising Newcomer to Film Red Buttons Nominated
David di Donatello Awards Best Foreign Actor Marlon Brando Won[a]
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Joshua Logan Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Marlon Brando Nominated
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Red Buttons Won
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Miyoshi Umeki Nominated
Best Director – Motion Picture Joshua Logan Nominated
Most Promising Newcomer – Male James Garner Won
Laurel Awards Top Drama Nominated
Top Male Supporting Performance Red Buttons Won
Ricardo Montalbán Nominated
Top Music Composer Franz Waxman Nominated
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Film Nominated
Best Actor Marlon Brando Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Written American Drama Paul Osborn Nominated

The film is also recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


In an article for the Los Angeles Times in 2003, Scarlet Cheng stated that the film "while calling for tolerance, also views the Japanese woman (so quiet, so subservient) as clearly superior to her American counterpart (so demanding, so loud). The Brando character, Maj. Lloyd, on R & R in Japan, doesn’t start out with this appreciation. As the movie opens, he’s trying to persuade another soldier to give up his Japanese girlfriend -- by showing him a picture of his own fiancee...Soon afterward, though, the good major breaks off his long-standing engagement -- to take up with a Japanese stage actress...Of course, the object of his affection is no mere chorine, but in fact, the star of the show, adored by thousands of fans -- a fitting partner for an America hero."[16]


Alongside the less successful Japanese War Bride (1952) and The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956), Sayonara is considered by some scholars to have increased racial tolerance in the United States by openly discussing interracial marriage.[17] Other scholars have argued that it is one in a long list of films stereotyping Asian American women as "lotus blossom, geisha girl, china doll, or Suzie Wong".[18]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Shales, Tom (July 14, 2006). "The Bright Appeal of Red Buttons". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 23, 2010.
  2. ^ a b Capote, Truman (November 9, 1957). "The Duke in His Domain". The New Yorker. Retrieved August 9, 2007.
  3. ^ Scott, John L. (May 5, 1957). "Fortune Bolt puts Miiko in Top Film Spot". Los Angeles Times. p. E3. - Clipping at Newspapers.com.
  4. ^ Logan, Joshua (1978). Movie stars, real people and me. Bantam Doubleday Dell. pp. 90–121. ISBN 9780440062585.
  5. ^ Capote, Truman (2008), Portraits and Observations, New York: Modern Library, p. 191
  6. ^ "Esteemed Actor Ricardo Montalban Dies".
  7. ^ Garner, James; Winokur, Jon (2011). The Garner Files: A Memoir. Simon & Schuster. p. 251.
  8. ^ "Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes.
  9. ^ "National Boxoffice Survey". Variety. January 29, 1958. p. 3. Retrieved October 21, 2021 – via Archive.org.
  10. ^ "All Time Domestic Champs", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  11. ^ "Antidote for pessimists". Variety. October 15, 1958. p. 3. Retrieved March 10, 2019.
  12. ^ "The 30th Academy Awards (1958) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-21.
  13. ^ "NY Times: Sayonara". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2010. Archived from the original on 2010-09-06. Retrieved 2008-12-22.
  14. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2011-03-13. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  15. ^ "AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores" (PDF). American Film Institute. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2011-03-13. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  16. ^ Cheng, Scarlet (2003-09-07). "Through Western eyes". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2023-08-04.
  17. ^ Sarah Kovner (2012). Occupying Power: Sex Workers and Servicemen in Postwar Japan. Stanford University Press. pp. 65–66. ISBN 978-0-8047-8346-0.
  18. ^ Edith Wen-Chu Chen (2010). Encyclopedia of Asian American Issues Today. ABC-CLIO. pp. 644–645. ISBN 978-0-313-34751-1.


External links[edit]