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In the Wings

Backstage glimpses with Boston Lyric Opera

BUTTERFLY GOES to the MOVIES # 2

Oct 15, 2012 11:00:00 AM
By BLO Staff

SAYONARA
1957 starring Marlon Brando, Miiko Taka, Miyoshi Umeki, Red Buttons
Directed by Joshua Logan - screenplay by Paul Osborn from the novel by James Michener
Commentary by BLO Artistic Advisor John Conklin
Hollywood attempts to deal with racism and prejudice, and from beneath the (not unexpectedly) glossy and often glib exterior at a somewhat leisurely pace, an often moving experience emerges. Marlon Brando is as usual almost hypnotically watchable, quiet yet commanding, relaxed but emitting coiled tension, witty, puckish yet deeply committed.
SAYONARA presents in a way two alternative endings to MADAMA BUTTERFLY

a ) Pinkerton and Butterfly get married and live happily-ever-after

or b) they both commit suicide
In a movie about corrosive Western prejudices towards Japanese culture filmed in Japan with Japanese actresses as the two leading women. Why would you cast Ricardo Montalban as a Kabuki actor? (It's Hollywood, Jake)

And then there's Brando own performance (in "yellowface") a year before in THE TEAHOUSE of the AUGUST MOON. Even here in very dubious (and controversial) circumstances you somehow can't take your eyes off him. Is he terrible, embarrassing, or great?

For an interesting and extensive layout of Hollywood's portrayal of East Asian culture, here's a wikipedia link (there seems to be an appropriate air of uneasy confusion and controversy about this article on the part of Wikipedia)

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