Sayonara - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Sayonara Reviews

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Cameron W. Johnson
Super Reviewer
September 24, 2014
"My woman from Tokyo, she makes me see!" Well, actually, this man's woman is from Kobe, but, hey, the military ostensibly can't even tell the difference between the Koreans and the Japs in this film, because even though this film is set during the Korean Conflict, they're trying to get said woman from Kobe out. You can see the irony in the fact that this '50s Southern man is opposing prejudice, but then again, Marlon Brando apparently improvised the accent. Nevertheless, Japan was, like, ten years ago, folks in this movie, and you need to get over it, because there are plenty of other Asian nations to feud with, and at the rate this film is going, it ought to cover them all by the time the credits roll. There's been, like, a million properties titled "The Long Goodbye", so they could have called this, I don't know, "The Long Sayonara", and let people know what they're in for. That would be such a cliché, but hey, it's no more of a cliché than nicknaming this Air Force act flier "Ace", or an Asian fetish that I don't entirely get. Brando was bi and ended up having 16 kids, so I'm sure there are a lot of things that he was into that wouldn't be interested in, unless, of course, they made a movie out of it, because this film is quite interesting, although the Ace character's name and particular taste in women are not the only things in this film which are a little familiar.

A military drama, a cultural celebration, and a star-crossed romance, this film is refreshing in how it entangles its various themes into a singular vision, but it doesn't do much of anything new with the respective traits, being rather predictable from various angles, with tropes that include histrionics. As a matter of fact, considering how long the film is, it's only a matter of time before it hits histrionics, no matter how mild, but otherwise, a sense of melodrama derives almost entirely from the sentimentality in Joshua Logan's direction, which is mostly resonant in its dramatic atmosphere, until reaching certain tonal excesses that by no means marks the end of the excess in this film. Coming very close to a runtime of two-and-a-half hours, the film is much too blasted long, with draggy and repetitious dialogue pieces, and too much exposition on individual layers in this branched and segmented narrative, leading to lapses in a sense of progression. As if it's not awkward enough that excessive structuring sees plotlines regarding the leads' friend's interracial marriage, an exploration of Japanese culture, and the lead's personal romantic conflicts outstaying their welcome enough for the other segments to lose focus before too long, the central plotline is often so aimless in its excess and meanderings that is takes much too long to get to a predictable point, focusing on the lead losing his original love, then winning over his true love, and then having his love challenged by his peers. Lloyd "Ace" Gruver's love interests receive an unbalanced amount of attention, and Gruver's other affairs, for that matter, are juggled messily, thus, the film is uneven and aimless to the point of being rather unfocused, and that's all fine and good, because the film is ultimately very compelling from most every angle, but, with that said, the excessive length and flimsy structure just go to show you how unspectacular this story is. This is no epic, no matter what the runtime may say, as it's a rather straightforward drama that is driven by dialogue and no extreme dangers, and although the story remains compelling in its concept and in its telling, the predictability, sentimentality, unevenness and aimlessness stress natural shortcomings and shake up momentum, almost to the point of shaking off a rewarding status. The final product tries one's patience, but so long as that patience stands firm, it is sure to be paid off, for although the film is unspectacular with its plot and disjointed with its storytelling, it holds your attention plenty, partly from an aesthetic angle.

For 1957, the film is remarkably good-looking, with Ellsworth Fredericks delivering on cinematography that is relatively crisp in definition, and lush in coloration, while carrying a certain scope that does further justice to an expansive observation of the environments and cultures of Japan, enhanced by Ted Haworth's Oscar-winning art direction. As a celebration of Japanese culture, this film hits the nail on the head in its lavishly distinguishing its environments and the other attractive traits of its setting, so if nothing else holds your attention throughout this overlong affair, it is the striking visual style and haunting visuals, and yet, this story explores much more than a lovely culture. This story may not be especially original, or have the scope or great consequentiality that are insinuated in a runtime of almost two-and-a-half hours, but to say that it is not especially compelling is inaccurate, for there is still plenty of depth to this narrative, of a human nature that is backed by themes regarding prejudice in respectable outfits, and is brought to life by a strong script. Paul Osborn's script is excessive, make no mistake, with aimlessness and unevenness that shake a sense of focus and progression at times, and yet, the point is that it takes its time to flesh out its characters and layers, and along the way, it holds your attention through sharp dialogue and a fair, clever sense of humor, while taking on potentially melodramatic genuineness with a surprising deal of genuineness, more often than not, at least. Again, it's Joshua Logan's sentimental direction which most challenges a sense of dramatic genuineness, and even then, on top of the being charming, the sentimentality is generally controlled enough to get across the weight of this subject matter with resonance, and a sense of importance that could have been lost amidst all of the dragging, which Logan makes more comfortable through tight pacing that keeps up an adequate degree of entertainment value. Really, color, charm and resonance are mostly encompassed in the cast, which is comprised of effective talents ranging from the subtly layered Red Buttons and Miyoshi Umeki, to the beautiful and humanized Patricia Owens and Miiko Taka, none of whom are quite up to par with leading man Marlon Brando, who delivers on explosive charisma and impeccable line delivery which get you invested into the grounded, likable nature of the flawed Lloyd "Ace" Gruver character, until incorporating a dramatic subtlety and grace that captures the lead's depths better than the storytellers. You can feel Gruver's change of heart when he finds true love, and you can feel his pain when that love and the love of his friends go opposed by figures he holds in high regard, and considering that, with all of its inconsistences, the film hardly every turns its attention away from Gruver, Brando carries this non-epic, but not quite alone, for although there's a lot to challenge one's patience, there is enough to maintain one's investment and make this minimalist, but piercing drama rewarding.

In the end, there is some familiarity and sentimentality to shake the dramatic momentum of this film, while other forms of momentum go shaken up something fierce by an excessive and repetitious structure that begets a sense of unevenness and aimlessness behind a story of very limited scale, thus, nearly two-and-a-half hours don't entirely pay off, but through lavish cinematography, locations and art direction, the cleverly written and genuinely directed telling of a thematically and dramatically important story, and a solid cast from which Marlon Brando stands out, there is enough payoff to make Joshua Logan's "Sayonara" a rewarding military and star-crossed lovers drama.

3/5 - Good
½ September 21, 2014
Beautiful story with a stamp of real quality given by Brando.
½ June 24, 2014
Beautiful, if not weighed down by a comically annoying performance by Marlon Brando
Super Reviewer
½ March 11, 2014
Brando takes a break from serious films to earn a bit of cash and some recognition in Sayonara. It lacks freshness today and likely can only be viewed as something that must be seen if you need to see the entire Brando cannon.
½ November 10, 2013
Marlon Brando plays a soldier named Ace, who has originated from the southern USA that has been reassigned to working in Japan. One of his colleagues Kelly (Red Buttons) falls in love and weds a Japanese woman (Miyoshi Umeki), although this not to the liking of his superiors. Additionally, Ace's woman (Patricia Owens) from America comes and joins him, although he starts losing interest in her and begins to fall in love with another lady, a Japanese actress (Miiko Taka). Honestly speaking, when I saw that director Joshua Logan was the same director of the 1956 film "Picnic," I became concerned that this drama would be unspectacular, and sure enough it was. It has not aged well, it is not that interesting, and therefore, it does not work on today's standards. Brando's consistent southern accent is quite annoying and not effective, like previously in the 1951 hit "A Streetcar Named Desire." James Garner adds nothing to this movie. I was ready to say "Sayonara" after 25 minutes watching this overly long picture. What a big disappointment, considering it took home two supporting acting awards (Buttons and Umeki, the Kelly couple and they are not bad at all).
September 11, 2013
Five stars simply for the variety of Japanese theater genres shown, from matsubayashi to bunraku puppetry, this is like a perfect sampling of Japanese theater. The story itself is sad and moving (even though a bit dated, but can interracial disharmony and bigotry ever be dated?) and the acting is superb all around. Marlon Brando's mutterings at the beginning of the film clear up right after you tune into his line, "She has enormous... capacity to fill a bathing suit."
July 6, 2013
Beautiful film with messages about race and marriage that seem well before their time. Amazing performances by Marlon Brando, Red Buttons, Miyoshi Umeki, and Miiko Taka. Japan itself is also a stunning star as many beautiful sites and interesting rituals are shown. Overall a fantastic movie very worth a watch.
June 26, 2013
Powerful performances all round from Brando to Buttons and Umeki to Taka.
Essentially Romeo and Juliet Japanese Style. The film has some really heart-breaking scenes, and touches on a subject that many in the world still suffer today. Great film.
October 14, 2012
A powerful tale of the troubles that love must over come in order to survive.
July 21, 2012
Marlon Brando is one of my top-favorite actors. He fills movies with his brilliant performance, or even his presence stirs uniqueness around itsy-bitsy movies.

Brando plays Lloyd Gruver a flier in American Air-Force during Korean-War, he is stationed at Kobe (Japan). He falls in love with local Japanese entertainer (Myoshi Umeki). Film is based on the novel of same name by James A. Michener. Marlon Brando plays flier in American Air-Force during Korean-War. It also co-stars James Garner and Myoshi Umeki (she won Oscar for Best Supp: Actress). Film was nominated for nominated in 10 categories, including Best Picture; winning 4.
June 22, 2012
Without doubt one of Brando's most underrated films, Sayonara never feels boring despite its 147-minute running time and stands as a well-directed, thought-provoking drama featuring impressive performances from not just Brando but also from Red Buttons and Miyoshi Umeki whose Oscar-winning portrayals of the doomed couple help them stand out on their own, despite being in the same company as possibly the greatest actor of the classical Hollywood era.
April 29, 2012
An important story upon it`s release about Americans marrying Japanese women. But the American government and army does everything they can to stop these marriages and those already consummated A decent film..
½ April 10, 2012
Nominated for ten Academy Awards, Sayonara won five
High Rating
April 5, 2012
As a former military person, I can feel for the people here. Brando plays an AF officer stationed in Japan, who is captivated by this Japanese singer who just happens to be the TOP singer in Japan; simple enough, but at the time after WW2 and just before Korea, fraternizing with the local women was a serious NO NO. On top of that, he is engaged to a general's daughter that doesn't help matters none and dealing with the racial stereotypes and bias comes to greet him. A great movie.
April 2, 2012
slow and not that interesting
January 17, 2012
Marlon Brando's talent is wasted among all the bad acting in this long Orientalist drama, but it's a good period piece.
½ August 29, 2011
Thanks for the recommending this one to me Lanning. Really enjoyed it. All the performances were great.
½ August 28, 2011
Forbidden love. Not the first time we've seen the story of an American serviceman falling in love with an indigenous native from the land where he's servicing. And this one has its merits. We learn some subtleties of the Japanese way of life following a pair of Air Forcers as they date some actresses. We also see plenty of culture within five or six theatrical performances within the movie. They are beautiful and the art direction deserved the Oscar. Also good are the also-Oscar awarded supporting roles of Red Buttons and Miyoshi Umeki. Their relationship is the catalyst that springs the interracial love plot line.

While that pair gets married at the onset of the film, superior officer Brando starts the film by being the voice of the miltary brass. The voice that forbids this fraternization. The point is made that while marriage is not "forbidden", the effort by the military is clear- to make life as difficlt as possible to anyone who wants to mix the races.

The problem is a mixture of script and Brando. Brando's character goes from being a by-the-books pilot. The son of a four-star general. Engaged to another general's daughter. He speaks the praises of living up to the expectations of others. He values responsibility. And then, he sees one Japanese girl and its all over. He changes immediately by shunning orders and the wishes of his superiors to go see this girl. The girl too, without reason, goes from "American bombs killed my family" to "I saw you kiss my friend gently- I must love you now." in one a passionate scene.

I could forgive this to see a passionate Brando screaming at the shameful policies that keep people in love from being together. But he doesn't bring that. Brando makes it seem like this character has no stakes. Even when he's facing miliary prison and losing his love all at once. He buttons up his suit and reads his lines cold. There's no Kowalski here.
August 2, 2011
Another critically acclaimed Marlon Brando film.
May 14, 2011
It was an excellent film which explores two very different cultures.
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