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
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.
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.
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.