The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956)

123 mins | Comedy | December 1956

Director:

Daniel Mann

Writer:

John Patrick

Producer:

Jack Cummings

Cinematographer:

John Alton

Editor:

Harold F. Kress

Production Designers:

William A. Horning, Eddie Imazu

Production Company:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
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HISTORY

The opening credits include a written statement reading: “We wish to gratefully acknowledge the courtesy and cooperation of the Daiei Motion Picture Company of Japan, Mr. Masaichi Negata, President.” Although only John Alton receives onscreen credit as director of photography, a Jun 1956 HR news item states that Russell Harlan shot the Japanese location scenes. The film begins and ends with Marlon Brando, as “Sakini,” addressing the camera directly. The final monologue, taken verbatim from the play upon which the film was based, concludes with: “Lovely ladies… kind gentlemen—go home to ponder. What was true in the beginning remains true. Pain makes man think. Thought makes man wise. Wisdom makes life endurable. May August moon bring gentle sleep.”
       John Patrick’s stage adaptation of Vern J. Sneider’s novel, also entitled Teahouse of the August Moon , won the Pultizer Prize for drama in 1955. In Nov 1952, Var announced that M-G-M was negotiating for the screen rights to the play, which had not yet been produced on Broadway. The next month, a DV news item noted that the studio had purchased the film rights to Sneider’s novel. Modern sources note that Brando, after seeing the play in New York, asked to be cast as Sakini. According to a Nov 1953 LAT news item, producer Jack Cummings planned to record a live staging of the play from which the screenwriter could copy passages directly. Patrick eventually was hired to write the screen adaptation, which differed from the play in that “Capt. Fisby,” played by John Forsythe on Broadway, rather than Sakini, played on the stage by David Wayne, emerged as the central ... More Less

The opening credits include a written statement reading: “We wish to gratefully acknowledge the courtesy and cooperation of the Daiei Motion Picture Company of Japan, Mr. Masaichi Negata, President.” Although only John Alton receives onscreen credit as director of photography, a Jun 1956 HR news item states that Russell Harlan shot the Japanese location scenes. The film begins and ends with Marlon Brando, as “Sakini,” addressing the camera directly. The final monologue, taken verbatim from the play upon which the film was based, concludes with: “Lovely ladies… kind gentlemen—go home to ponder. What was true in the beginning remains true. Pain makes man think. Thought makes man wise. Wisdom makes life endurable. May August moon bring gentle sleep.”
       John Patrick’s stage adaptation of Vern J. Sneider’s novel, also entitled Teahouse of the August Moon , won the Pultizer Prize for drama in 1955. In Nov 1952, Var announced that M-G-M was negotiating for the screen rights to the play, which had not yet been produced on Broadway. The next month, a DV news item noted that the studio had purchased the film rights to Sneider’s novel. Modern sources note that Brando, after seeing the play in New York, asked to be cast as Sakini. According to a Nov 1953 LAT news item, producer Jack Cummings planned to record a live staging of the play from which the screenwriter could copy passages directly. Patrick eventually was hired to write the screen adaptation, which differed from the play in that “Capt. Fisby,” played by John Forsythe on Broadway, rather than Sakini, played on the stage by David Wayne, emerged as the central character.
       A 28 Sep 1953 “Rambling Reporter” item in HR stated that famed literary agent Irving Lazar sold the property to M-G-M and that the studio was planning for Robert Taylor to star. In Jun 1954, HR wrote that Tita Magaleno, a Philippine actress, was testing for the role of a geisha girl. “Rambling Reporter” then noted in Aug 1955 that Tiger Joe Marsh would test for the role of "Mr. Hokaida." Initially, the filmmakers planned to shoot the entire production in Japan, and on 16 Apr 1956 began filming various locations including Kyoto and Nara. However, as noted in a 10 Jun 1956 NYT piece, after about twenty percent of the scenes, including outdoor footage, was completed, stormy weather forced the production to return to Hollywood in Jun 1956. Whole sets and the full cast and crew had to be transported to the M-G-M backlot to finish the film.
       Long-time stage and film actor Louis Calhern was originally cast in the role of “Col. Purdy,” but died of a heart attack on 12 May 1956, in the middle of production. M-G-M replaced him with Paul Ford, who had originated the role of Purdy on stage. Contemporary sources noted Brando’s intense preparation for the role of Sakini, which included spending a daily regime of two hours in makeup and several hours studying Japanese. Many contemporary reviews praised the performance of Brando, who was playing against type in the comic role. The HR review stated, "Brando gives one of the most skillful impersonations in recent memory,” and the BHC review called his Sakini “one of the greatest performances ever seen in the long history of the screen.” Other reviewers, however, noted that he was physically larger than the slight Okinawan character seen on stage, and modern critics criticized his performance, as did Brando himself in his autobiography, in which he points to his feuds with Glenn Ford as creating an atmosphere of grandstanding. Modern sources add that Brando also disliked director Daniel Mann. Critics also praised Ford's performance, with the HR reviewer noting, "Nothing in Ford's background can prepare you for the amazing job he does in this part."
       As noted in a 21 Nov 1956 LAT article, the film’s premiere at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles included in the audience representatives of the Japanese government and more than 1,000 armed forces members. In 1957, Universal Pictures produced a film entitled Joe Butterfly , directed by Jesse Hibbs and starring Audie Murphy and Kieko Shima, which had some thematic similarities to The Teahouse of the August Moon (see above). HR reported in Mar 1969 that theatrical producer Herman Levin had asked M-G-M for permission to produce a musical version of the play, which would be written by Patrick, with the music and lyrics written by Stan Freeman and Franklin Underwood. That production was never made. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
BHC
20 Nov 1956.
---
Box Office
20 Oct 1956.
---
Box Office
27 Oct 1956.
---
Daily Variety
4 May 1952.
---
Daily Variety
15 Dec 1952.
---
Daily Variety
17 Oct 56
p. 3.
Film Daily
17 Oct 56
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Dec 1952.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Sep 1953
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jun 1954
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Aug 1955
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Jan 1956
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Apr 1956
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Apr 1956
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Jun 1956
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Jun 1956
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Jul 1956
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Aug 1956
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Oct 56
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Nov 1956
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Mar 1969.
---
Los Angeles Mirror
21 Nov 1956
pp. 15-16.
Los Angeles Times
9 Nov 1953.
---
Los Angeles Times
24 Jun 1956
Part IV, p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
21 Nov 1956
p. 2, 12.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
20 Oct 56
p. 113.
New York Times
10 Jun 1956.
---
New York Times
30 Nov 56
p. 19.
Variety
26 Nov 1952.
---
Variety
17 Oct 56
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog, Japan
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
MUSIC
Mus supv
Okinawan songs comp and arr
Kyoto mus rec
Kyoto mus rec
SOUND
Sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
DANCE
Choreog
MAKEUP
Makeup created by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Teahouse of the August Moon by Vern J. Sneider (New York, 1951) and the play of the same name by John Patrick, presented on the stage by Maurice Evans (New York, 15 Oct 1953).
SONGS
"Mashunko-Bushi" and "Sakura, Sakura," words and music by Kikuko Kanai
"Deep in the Heart of Texas," words by June Hershey, music by Don Swander.
DETAILS
Release Date:
December 1956
Premiere Information:
World premiere in Los Angeles: 20 November 1956
New York opening: 29 November 1956
Tokyo, Japan opening: 25 December 1956
Production Date:
16 April--late July 1956
Copyright Claimant:
Loew's Inc.
Copyright Date:
31 October 1956
Copyright Number:
LP7253
Physical Properties:
Sound
Perspecta Sound; Westrex Recording System
Color
Metrocolor
Widescreen/ratio
CinemaScope
Duration(in mins):
123
Length(in feet):
11,049
Length(in reels):
15
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
13248
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

After the end of World War II, American Army posts are attempting to foster democracy throughout Okinawa. Col. Wainwright Purdy III, heads his post with short-sighted rigor, hewing closely to army-issued textbooks and strict military order. Hindering him in his exactitude is translator Sakini, a native Okinawan who artfully champions the culture and causes of the locals while appearing fully deferential to his boss. When Purdy learns that Capt. Fisby is being sent to his unit from the department of psychological warfare, he is thrilled to have another officer serving him, but upon arriving, Fisby proves himself to be a bumbling misfit who has been kicked out of every other military department. Regardless, Purdy remains cheerful as he sends Fisby to bring capitalism to the town of Tobiki, helped by Sakini and a military document on rebuilding villages. Sakini immediately frustrates Fisby by loading his jeep with an old woman, her daughter and grandchildren, their luggage and several goats. Although Fisby tries to take command, the Okinawans dupe him into stopping at several towns along their route so that they can visit relatives. When they finally arrive in Tobiki, Sakini listens to Fisby’s prepared speech and applauds it as very similar to the speech the Japanese officials made when they took over, then subsequently stole everything the villagers owned. Fisby tries to address the villagers, but is interrupted by the various presents they offer him, including a cricket cage, wooden shoes called gata and a cup, which the bestower explains will be filled with an “August moon,” signifying maturity and wisdom. Fisby then is inspired ... +


After the end of World War II, American Army posts are attempting to foster democracy throughout Okinawa. Col. Wainwright Purdy III, heads his post with short-sighted rigor, hewing closely to army-issued textbooks and strict military order. Hindering him in his exactitude is translator Sakini, a native Okinawan who artfully champions the culture and causes of the locals while appearing fully deferential to his boss. When Purdy learns that Capt. Fisby is being sent to his unit from the department of psychological warfare, he is thrilled to have another officer serving him, but upon arriving, Fisby proves himself to be a bumbling misfit who has been kicked out of every other military department. Regardless, Purdy remains cheerful as he sends Fisby to bring capitalism to the town of Tobiki, helped by Sakini and a military document on rebuilding villages. Sakini immediately frustrates Fisby by loading his jeep with an old woman, her daughter and grandchildren, their luggage and several goats. Although Fisby tries to take command, the Okinawans dupe him into stopping at several towns along their route so that they can visit relatives. When they finally arrive in Tobiki, Sakini listens to Fisby’s prepared speech and applauds it as very similar to the speech the Japanese officials made when they took over, then subsequently stole everything the villagers owned. Fisby tries to address the villagers, but is interrupted by the various presents they offer him, including a cricket cage, wooden shoes called gata and a cup, which the bestower explains will be filled with an “August moon,” signifying maturity and wisdom. Fisby then is inspired to create a souvenir business to bring profits to the town, and declares his intent to build a schoolhouse that, as Purdy has ordered, will be shaped like the Pentagon. Finally, he announces the appointment of a mayor, heads of agriculture and police, and a ladies’ league president, and the villagers nominate locals to the respective posts. Later, Sakini presents geisha Lotus Blossom as another gift for Fisby, but he assumes she is a prostitute and attempts to dismiss her. Sakini, however, informs him that she will lose face if he throws her out, so Fisby tries to ignore Lotus Blossom’s ministrations, despite the fact that she is aggressively undressing him even as he talks on the phone to Purdy. The next day, the village women, led by Miss Higa Jiga and interpreted by Sakini, gather to complain to Fisby that Lotus Blossom represents an “unfair market advantage,” and to demand similar perfumes, makeup and kimonos so they can compete with her. When they threaten to write to the U. S. government, an anxious Fisby succumbs, but puts his foot down when they demand geisha lessons. Later, when Lotus Blossom again attempts to wait on Fisby, he explodes in frustration, calling her work immoral, until Sakini explains that geishas merely comfort men with songs and sympathy. Relieved, Fisby announces that Lotus Blossom will teach all the women to be geishas. Soon after, however, the men come to him en masse asking for a teahouse to house the geishas, and although Fisby tries once again to refuse, he gives in after elderly Omura states that this is his last chance to live his life’s dream to enter a teahouse, thus freeing his soul for death. Over the next weeks, while the building is constructed quickly, Fisby leads the villagers in the production of their handmade crafts and increases the goat herd, but when Purdy hears no schoolhouse has been built, he commissions psychiatrist Capt. McLean to investigate. McLean is at first alarmed to discover that Fisby now wears gatas and a kimono and spends his days with Lotus Blossom, but upon hearing that Fisby’s plans for economic recovery include a garden, McLean, a secret organic farming enthusiast, grows overjoyed at the idea of testing his germination theories. Soon after, Fisby learns that none of the village souvenirs have sold to the Marines, who prefer the cheap, shoddy versions already available. Fisby is dejected until Sakini informs him that the villagers have gone to drink their sorrows away with homemade sweet-potato brandy, and upon testing the liquor on a goat, the captain declares brandy their newest commodity. Within days a still is built and the village is earning ever-increasing commissions, but Fisby’s greatest triumphs come with watching the sunset each night with Lotus Blossom, and finally capturing his very own cricket for his cricket cage. On the night the teahouse opens, Fisby and McLean are thrilled to discover its lavish beauty and the charm of the women inside, who dance and sing for them. To return the favor, the officers lead the village in a rendition of “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” but are interrupted by the arrival of Purdy, who reacts with horror, ordering the teahouse and and all of the stills demolished, and placing Fisby under technical arrest. Before leaving Tobiki, Fisby, devastated by what he sees as his ultimate failure, visits the ruined teahouse, where Lotus Blossom tearfully asks him to marry her. He responds, however, that she belongs in Okinawa, and promises to remember all that is beautiful about her “when the August moon rises.” Sakini also requests to leave with Fisby, who reminds him gently that he must stay to help the next officer in command. Sakini assures the captain that he has not failed, and Fisby responds that Tobiki has taught him that even when one feels conquered, one can retain a sense of independence and peace. Just then, a frantic Purdy informs them that the American press, upon hearing about Tobiki, have hailed it as an example of American ingenuity, and Congressmen are en route to inspect the village. Although the officers bemoan the stills’ destruction, Sakini explains that the villagers merely pretended to demolish the teahouse, and within minutes, both the stills and the teahouse have been restored. As Purdy, Fisby, Lotus Blossom and McLean enter the teahouse along with the happy villagers, Sakini concludes his “little story” with his wishes that an August moon will bring gentle sleep. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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