Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Sayonara (1957)


Written by Tim Dirks

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Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Sayonara (1957)

In director Joshua Logan's romantic-drama set in the early 1950s about the issue of American soldiers serving in Japan during the Korean War (1950-1953), who became romantically involved with indigenous Japanese natives:

  • in 1951, West-Point educated Air Force Major Lloyd "Ace" Gruver (Marlon Brando) from Richmond, Virginia, with a slurred southern accent, was being transferred from the warfront in Korea (due to the excuse of "combat fatigue") and redeployed and stationed at a Japanese air base in Kobe; he was being sent there specifically by General Webster (Kent Smith), the father of Gruver's own red-headed American fiancee Eileen (Patricia Owens) from Tulsa, Oklahoma; Major Gruver's task would be to confront the issue of soldiers becoming romantically involved with Japanese women in post-war Japan, in defiance of US military policy
  • Major Gruver was specifically ordered to dissuade his subordinate friend - a junior officer and enlisted Airman Joe Kelly (Red Buttons), from marrying a Japanese "native" woman, Katsumi (Miyoshi Umeki); Kelly's marriage would mean he would be prohibited from taking his foreign-born wife to the US; once they had arrived at the Itami Air Base in Kobe, Major Lloyd reluctantly agreed to serve as 'Best Man' and as a witness at Kelly's and Katsumi's marriage even though he objected to their marriage
  • Major Gruver was met at the plane at the airbase in Kobe by General and Mrs. Webster (Kent Smith and Martha Scott), Eileen's parents, and to his surprise, Eileen was sitting in their car to greet him

General and Mrs. Webster (Kent Smith and Martha Scott)

Major Gruver's Pretty Fiancee: Eileen Webster (Patricia Owens)
  • at the exclusive Officer's Club, Marine Corps Captain Mike Bailey (James Garner), accompanied by pretty Japanese national Fumiko (Reiko Kuba), one of Japan's most famous dancers, was being denied entrance - an example of "out-and-out fraternization" that had been outlawed by the US military; the two were forced to leave the premises
  • Lloyd's own doubts about his future marriage with Eileen grew more intense; after attendance at a Kabuki Theater Show, dinner, and a stroll in a garden, they discussed their future; in their unstable relationship, she feared that he would become like his father, a four-star general neglectful of his mother, and she didn't want to be married to him based on personal status alone, rather than for true passionate love ("Oh Lloyd, it's me you've got to love. Oh Lloyd, haven't you ever felt like, like grabbing me and hauling me off to a shack somewhere?") - while trying to convince Kelly to quit his affair, the Major's own personal beliefs (and his engagement to Eileen) were also being challenged; their argument was the beginning of the disintegration of their relationship
  • Air Force Major Gruver risked his career by serving as 'Best Man' and a witness for his friend Kelly's and Katsumi's marriage; he participated in the ring ceremony, and gently kissed Katsumi on the lips, with Kelly's permission
  • in a garden near the Officer's Club, Captain Bailey led Major Gruver to a nearby bridge (known colloquially as "Bitchi-Bashi") that linked the celebrated, all-female theater company, the Matsubayashi Girls Revue ("The Matsubayashi girls are the most famous girls in Japan. You know, they sing, they dance, they act all the parts, no men"), to the dormitory village where the female performers lived; many of the troupe’s fans joined them as they watched the dancers parade from the village to the theater before and after each show. Captain Bailey commented about how the dancers were strictly forbidden to have romantic relationships, or they would be immediately dismissed
Bridge with Dance Performers Crossing, as Bailey and Gruver Observed
  • during an afternoon performance of the beautiful Japanese Matsubayashi Revue dancers and their star performer Hana-ogi (Miiko Taka in her debut film), the "number one girl"; afterwards, Major Gruver became obsessed with meeting and speaking to Hana-ogi, but had no luck at the bridge; fortuitously, Gruver was invited to meet Hana-ogi at Kelly's house for dinner (she was friends with Katsumi); however, upon meeting her, she straight-forwardly expressed her anti-American sentiments to him - in perfect English: ("My father was killed by American bomb dropped on my country. You have been my enemy. I have hated Americans. I have thought they are savages. There has been nothing but vengeance in my heart")
Dinner at Kelly's Home with Hana-ogi
  • but then, she thoughtfully acknowledged that she had wrongful feelings of hate for him and graciously asked for his forgiveness: "I have been watching you, too, and you have not looked like a savage. And when Katsumi-san told me how gently you kissed her the day she became a bride, how tenderly you kissed my sweet little friend, I realized the hate was of my own making. That is why I came to ask you to forgive me for what I have been feeling. Gruver-san, will you forgive me?"
  • to Gruver's surprise, she offered or submitted herself to him - she also acknowledged that they would face dangers in their relationship if discovered, but was ready to fall in love with him - this would possibly be the only time she would fall in love: "My life is planned. I am dedicated to Matsubayashi, as you are dedicated to American military life. I have never been in love. But I have dreamed and thought about it and waited. The danger that lies ahead of us we must face now. The danger of discovery for both of us, danger of weakness when it is over. I will never fall in love again. But I will love you, Ace-san, if that is your desire."
  • a "riled-up" Colonel Crawford (Douglas Watson) arrived to privately speak to General Webster about his fierce campaign to discourage and disrupt romantic relationships and marriages between American military personnel and Japanese females. (Eileen discreetly eavesdropped on their conversation and learned of Gruver's new romantic interest); Crawford had placed spies around Kelly's house and had inadvertently discovered Major Gruver's romantic interest in Hana-Ogi; Webster agreed to Crawford's suggestion to order a new regulation that would prohibit any further fraternizations between servicemen and local women
  • as he was falling in love, Major Gruver defied the new order by continuing to secretly meet with Hana-Ogi at Kelly's house and in the countryside; during his love affair, Lloyd was directly violating the recent orders from Camp Kobe

Gruver's Secret Romance with Hana-ogi

Hana-ogi Singing "Sayonara" Theme Song with Puppet
Night of Love: Tanabata
  • Kelly received disturbing news that the spiteful Colonel Crawford had given orders that all US military men married to Japanese women had been reassigned, and he would be shipped back to the US - without his wife (who was now pregnant); Major Gruver attempted to persuade the Colonel to countermand or postpone the order, and exempt Kelly from being shipped out, but his request was refused; Gruver also sought out General Webster to plead for help, but found that he was also unwilling to interfere with the chain of command
  • angered by their lack of cooperation, Gruver decided to divulge his own relationship with a Japanese woman and his plans to marry: "Kelly's from my outfit, Mrs. Webster. l was his best man. And l'm planning to marry a Japanese girl myself"; it was a pronouncement of his formal engagement breakup with Eileen; then he surprised Hana-ogi with news that he had already signed papers for their wedding, but she refused to accept his unexpected proposal at such a difficult time ("Matsubayashi has been kind to me, Lloyd. l am obligated to them...They are my life. l will bring shame to them, disgrace"); she divulged that she too was being punished (although leniently) with an imminent transfer to Tokyo by the company for consorting with an American
  • to temporarily forget about everyone's problems, the two couples took the train to Osaka to watch a puppet/marionette show. The show's "tender story" was a clear foreshadowing of the tragic conclusion of the film - the practice of ritualized suicide (or shinju) ("lt is custom for lovers to die together when they can no longer face life")

Puppet Show: Lovers' Ritualized Suicidal Deaths
Kelly's and Katsumi's Double-Suicide
  • soldiers (MPs) arrived to board up Kelly's house with planks of wood reading "OFF LIMITS," and Kelly was told he wouldn't need his house because he was shipping out to the US in two days; Major Gruver was taken to the base and placed on house-arrest before being flown to another airbase, and Hana-ogi was flown to Tokyo immediately; two MPs asked for Gruver's assistance in helping to find Kelly; at Kelly's home, he and Bailey found them lying together in bed (victims of a double-suicide) and was devastated
  • instead of allowing his reassignment to the US, Gruver flew to Tokyo where Hana-ogi was now performing with her Japanese theater troupe; he was ultimately able to convince her to join him, and proceed to the American consulate to get married
  • the two were ambushed by rival Japanese and American military reporters (from Stars and Stripes) who were looking to interview him for a story scoop; Hana-ogi spoke first about accepting Gruver's proposal, and then he commented on his pending marriage to a Japanese woman (that would offend both the U.S. military "brass" and the Japanese)
  • the film ended with Gruver's final line to the reporters about how he felt about the negative reaction they would receive: ("Tell 'em we said, 'Sayonara')

Major Lloyd "Ace" Gruver (Marlon Brando)

Airman Joe Kelly (Red Buttons)

Pretty Dancer Fumiko (Reiko Kuba) - Denied Entrance into the Officer's Club with Captain Bailey

Major Gruver and Eileen at the Kabuki Theater Show

and in the Garden Discussing Their Future (and Kissing) Before Breaking Up

Kelly's and Katsui's Wedding - Gruver Served as "Best Man"

Gruver's First View of Hana-ogi (Miiko Taka)

Hana-ogi Performing On Stage

Eileen Eavesdropping on News of Gruver's New Relationship

Gruver Finding Inner Peace with Hana-ogi

Colonel Crawford's Denial of Gruver's Request that Kelly Be Exempted From Being Sent Home

Gruver's Formal Engagement Breakup with Eileen

Hana-ogi at Kelly's Window - "Sayonara"

Reconciling with Each Other in Tokyo

Hana-ogi to Reporters: "Major Gruver has asked me to be his wife"

Gruver's Last Line: "Tell 'em we said 'Sayonara'!"


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