SUBJECTS — U.S./ 1945 – 1991 & Diversity; World/Japan;

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Male Role Model; Friendship; Romantic Relationships;

MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Respect.

AGE: 12+; No MPAA Rating;

Drama; 1957; 147 minutes; Color. Available from

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Beginning with the occupation of Japan in 1945, many American soldiers fell in love with Japanese women. However, the U.S. government forbade marriages between soldiers and Japanese nationals. Japan was a major staging ground for U.S. forces during the Korean War. The presence of additional U.S. troops in Japan only worsened the problem of soldiers wanting to marry Japanese women. This film is the story, from the novel by James Michener, of three soldiers who fall in love with Japanese women and how two of them try to buck the Air Force bureaucracy to marry them.


Selected Awards: 1957 Academy Awards: Best Art Direction/Set Direction, Best Sound, Best Supporting Actor (Buttons), Best Supporting Actress (Umeki); 1958 Golden Globe Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Buttons); 1957 Academy Award Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Brando), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Director (Logan).

Featured Actors: Marlon Brando, James Garner, Ricardo Montalban, Patricia Owens, Red Buttons, Miiko Taka, Myoshi Umeki, Martha Scott.

Director: Joshua Logan.


“Sayonara” shows the pain that can be caused by prejudice and by wrongheaded government policies. Colonel Gruver is a role model for a man who can grow beyond the limitations of his origins by rejecting the prejudices of his class.


MODERATE. Alcohol use and smoking are shown. One of the soldiers, soon to be separated from his Japanese wife, commits suicide with her. However, this is shown as a waste and a tragedy.


Before watching the film, briefly describe for your child the origins and course of the Korean War. See Helpful Background section second paragraph. After the movie ask and help your child to answer the Quick Discussion Question.


Until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, marriage between people of different races was frowned on. In fact, it was illegal in many states until such laws were held to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Prejudice against mixed marriages was particularly strong in the Southeastern United States. Intermarriage between the races only became accepted in the last half of the 20th century and, even then many people held to the old ways. The United States had tens of thousands of soldiers in Japan for years after the Second World War. During the Korean War, Japan was a major staging base for U.S. forces fighting the North Koreans and Chinese. During this period, the U.S. military did everything it could to prevent marriages between U.S. servicemen and Japanese nationals. If soldiers did marry Japanese women, they were not allowed to take their wives home. As Japan became a U.S. ally, the pressure to change the policy grew in strength. Congress then passed a law permitting the GIs to bring their Japanese brides home to the U.S.

Japan annexed Korea in 1910 and imposed a brutal colonial rule on the peninsula. After the Second World War, the United States and the Soviet Union divided Korea into divisions of occupation along the 38th parallel. The area north of the parallel, occupied by the Soviet Union, became Communist North Korea. The southern portion, occupied by the U.S., became South Korea. In the Korean War (1950 – 1953), North Korea, backed by China, invaded South Korea, which was supported by the U.S. The war seesawed back and forth with Chinese troops entering the war on the side of the North. The Korean War finally ended with an armistice but no peace treaty. The boundary was left in the same place it had been at the start of the war. There had been 2,000,000 casualties on the communist side; 1,500,000 on the United Nations side.



Isn’t it ironic that just after Kelly and Katsumi committed suicide, Congress changed the law and permitted soldiers to bring their Japanese brides to the United States? What does this say about suicide?

Suggested Response:

It says that often situations change or the facts are not what you think they are. If you commit suicide there is no way to come back. Romeo and Juliet tells the same story. There was Juliet, apparently dead in Romeo’s arms. But he was wrong, and no matter how sure he was, with the proof of this fact right there in his arms, it wasn’t true. People who commit suicide are most often very distressed. In that situation, the person is not operating at their best and their judgment and observations are not to be trusted with life and death decisions.


1. See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

2. Isn’t it ironic that just after Kelly and Katsumi committed suicide, Congress changed the law and permitted soldiers to bring their Japanese brides to the United States? Can you define the word “irony?” Suggested Response: For a discussion of irony see Learning Guide to “Cyrano de Bergerac”.

3. Why was Colonel Gruver embarrassed about being pulled out of combat in Korea for a desk job in the safety of Japan?

4. Why did Irene visit Colonel Gruver to warn him that the brass was after him?



1. Was it important to the story to have Colonel Gruver come from the South and have a strong Southern accent? Why?

2. Why was Colonel Gruver putting his career at risk by marrying a Japanese woman?


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends and country)


(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)

1. Do you think that the commanding officers were racist in their objections to soldiers marrying Japanese women, or were there sound reasons for this policy?



Mig, oriental, sayonara, occidental.



South Pacific and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.



For a lesson plan from the National Archives, see The United States Enters the Korean Conflict.

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