Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Teahouse of the August Moon - A Review

The Teahouse of the August Moon is a 1956 screwball comedy/satire set in post-WWII Japan that starred Marlon Brando, Glenn Ford, Japanese actress Machiko Kyo, and Eddie Albert. While I watched this film because Brando was in it and because my internet was down at the moment and I had nothing better to do, I have to say that I really enjoyed this movie a lot more than I thought I would. Not having heard of this movie before, nothing good or bad about it, I figured it would be kind of forgettable. But I really liked it. And it wasn't even necessarily because of Brando's odd but exceptional performance. What really drew me to this movie was my love for all things Japanese. 

In this film Brando serves as a kind of host and he is not really the main character even though he is the top billed actor. And of course he would get top billing. This was back when Brando was money although many critics would scorn Brando's role in this film. Perhaps this film was what began turning the tide against him. 

But the movie's true lead is Glenn Ford and he plays an inept army captain whose job it is to introduce democracy to the village of Okinawa with the help of the sly interpreter Sakini (Brando). Glenn Ford's duty is to put the village on the map as a beacon of American ingenuity by building a school (fived-sided like the Pentagon, of course) and forming a Ladies League for Democratic Action, but the people of Okinawa and Sakini have different things in mind. Through various devious methods of making Glenn Ford look silly, Ford essentially gives in to the true desire of the Okinawa people. They don't want a school. Instead they want a Teahouse and Geisha training for the women. 

Brando typically becomes immersed in his characters and gives them certain quirks to really make them come alive. Well, the character of Sakini is no exception. Perhaps his casting was in bad taste in 1956 and I imagine that by today's standards it is as well. Kind of like the equivalent to black face (or yellow face), I suppose. Take a white guy and make him look like foreigner so you don't have to actually hire a foreigner and viola! we have a foreigner. But there are plenty of Japanese people in this movie and the whole film is about Japan so Brando's choice as Sakini could scarcely be called racist. It can only be called odd, which it is, but it also worked. Marlon Brando in make-up and with a very practiced accent really becomes the character of Sakini and I can't imagine the role portrayed by anyone else. Not even Japanese actors. Brando just had a personality that essentially willed this movie along and overcame some of the slower moments. 

The semi-love story between Glenn Ford and Machiko Kyo (who largely only speaks Japanese for most of the movie) is the focal point of this movie and it is certainly not without merit, but Brando binds the movie together (much like he binds the couple together by interpreting for them) and he rescues the movie from what essentially would have been a very sad and depressing ending. 

I should also point that this film does dive into the subject of interracial marriage and for 1956 that must have been pretty controversial. Probably still is in some places today. So if a white guy playing an Asian guy offends you or interracial marriage offends you than you are either have serious problems or you are living in the wrong century. Either way you probably wouldn't like the movie. Otherwise there shouldn't be too much of a problem. 

Is it one of my favorite movies? I don't know. I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure how much I like it just yet. It's no On the Waterfront, but it's still pretty good. Give it a try. I know I certainly laughed a few times and the movie made me smile. 

But I'm going off track. Watch the movie. 

P.S. - Harry Morgan's brief appearance reminded me of M*A*S*H and seeing him become a drunken loon at the end of the movie further convinced me that this had to have been on his audition tape for the show.

1 comment:

  1. i haven't seen this one so I'll have to check it out. I put the one with Liz Taylor on my netflix list, so that should be showing up soon.

    As far as this goes

    "This was back when Brando was money although many critics would scorn Brando's role in this film. Perhaps this film was what began turning the tide against him"

    I think any bad things that were said about Brando were mainly because Brando could be a colossal asshole. Consequently, many of the people who wrote negative reviews had probably been disrespected by Brando somewhere along the way. I think most of what gets written today about Brando's old movie is pretty positive (all the people who didn't know him XD). If you ever get a chance to listen to the Coppola commentaries on The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, there are a ton of good hilarious Brando stories (not so hilarious to Coppola at the time - but he laughs about them in retrospect).