Saturday, June 29, 2013

Brando: Sayonara (1957)

Brando and Miiko Taka in Sayonara

I love Japan, almost everything about it, which is probably why my perspective on Sayonara has changed from the first time I watched it, ohhhh, some odd 5 years ago. I understand the Japanese culture better now, enough to realize that Brando's character, Major Lloyd Gruver, is fortunate that he didn't insult the entirety of the nation with his passionate pursuit of a Japanese national.

The film takes place in 1951, a significant time because the war had only been over for a few years and there was still extreme tension between America and Japan. Brando approaches the character of Lloyd Gruver with his usual dedication to detail, which explains the Southern accent that has been deemed nearly flawless. Lloyd is stationed in Japan not because he wants to be there, but because a three star general, friend to his family, and father to the girl he's engaged to marry, wants him there. So, his tour in Korea is cut short and Lloyd finds himself in Japan. It doesn't take long for issues to arise between Lloyd and Eileen, played by the attractive Patricia Owens.

A disagreement separates the two, and Lloyd's eye wanders to Hana-Ogi, played by Miiko Taka. At first, he's looking for just a little bit of fun, but as he progresses deeper into the lifestyle of the Japanese, Lloyd finds he really likes it, and really likes Hana-Ogi. Unfortunately for any American soldier who fell in love with a Japanese national at this time, they could get married, but there was a law preventing the wives from being brought back to the States. Essentially, a husband could get transferred stateside and never see his wife again. So, Lloyd has a decision to make. Is he serious enough about Hana-Ogi to fight the system, or has he merely been playing house?

As much as I love Marlon Brando, it's actually a secondary set of characters that snagged my attention and fondness even over him. Red Buttons (yes, that is his name) plays Kelly, an Irish American AF pilot who falls in love with a Japanese woman named Katsumi, played by Miyoshi Umeki. Kelley and Katsumi marry early on in the film and so we see them through Lloyd's eyes, watching him soften towards the idea, seeing his developing fondness for Katsumi, and his envy of their tranquil and idyllic Japanese life. Kelly and Katsumi are the heart of Sayonara, the catalyst for all of Lloyd and Hana-Ogi's decisions. They're crucial to the plot, and I love them for it.

Kelly, Katsumi, and Lloyd

This movie always saddens me, though, because a great tragedy occurs. And anyone without a familiarity with Japanese culture would do a double-take at the perceived insanity of the tragedy. Me, not so much. Japanese women were so terrified of being raped by the soldiers during WWII that they would tie their children to themselves and throw themselves off cliffs in order to avoid that fate. There is no shame in suicide to protect one's honor in Japan. I don't know how they feel now, but that is how the people felt then. Because I understand this part of their culture, I process the tragedy better then most American audiences. The decisions made by two characters make some sick, twisted sort of sense to me because it is a Japanese decision and not an American one.

Back to Brando, he plays a calm, relaxed Southern boy in Sayonara, and I have never really liked lazy Southern boys. Which is why my psyche latched onto Red Buttons instead, both the first time I ever saw this movie and even now. Brando is excellent in the role, a perfect choice, but I couldn't help but feel that the romance between Lloyd and Hana-Ogi was Hollywoodized, whereas Kelly and Katsumi could have been real people. Red Buttons was just that good.

Oh, and yes, the rumors are true. Ricardo Montalban does put in an appearance as a Japanese national. Gouging my eyes out with a pair of spoons was becoming a viable option!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Poor Paula

Paula Deen used a racial slurr. In the past. Her entire life is unraveling before her eyes because she dared use the N word. In the past! Is this any reason for her to lose the entirety of her livelihood in one fell swoop because she at some point used a racial slurr?

What has happened to America?! I am in no way excusing Paula Deen, but the poor woman has already apologized countless times, broken down on national tv pleading for forgiveness and the world is unwilling to forgive. What about the insanity of the Martha Stewart scandal where she actually performed an illegal act with her finances? She spent her few paltry years in jail and is now back to publishing, baking, decorating, etc., being as popular as ever, totally forgiven by society. But you mention the possibility that someone used a racial slurr and they must be spurned by America at large? This is insanity at its highest level!

Paula Deen has done nothing ILLEGAL! She said something incredibly stupid, but the last time I checked, stupidity was not a crime. If it were, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt would have been tossed in the slammer years ago! The woman is allowed her mistakes. If people were going to be perfectly honest about themselves, every single one of us has thought some unpleasant remark about someone from a different ethnicity! No exceptions!

And why? Because we're all sinners! Remember when Jesus informed the infuriated mob of ravenous Jews that anyone among them without sin could cast the first stone against the adulteress? You know what happened? The mob disbanded and everyone went home and the woman was forgiven by Jesus! We're all sinners!

This high and mighty protest against Paula Deen only proves to me how hypocritical American society is on the whole! They've blown this freakin' thing way out of proportion and I hope that someday, these people who say one ill word against her find their one error paraded on newspapers and television. Before we shake our finger at Paula's infinitesimal mistake, let's take a moment to remember our own and realize if we want to receive forgiveness, we should offer it!

The Father Figure in The Closer & Major Crimes

Provenza and Sanchez in The Closer

Today, as I watched Julio Sanchez on The Closer break down in tears in his superior’s arms, my heart shattered for him. Sanchez is strong. He’s a fighter. He became a cop when everyone else in his neighborhood joined a gang. And his brother was killed because he was wearing a baseball cap. The baseball cap Julio had given him for his birthday only a month prior. And when he clings to Provenza, their relationship moves beyond mere coworkers and more into the realm of family. No one else knows quite what to say to Julio, how to be there for him, what to do, but Provenza just let him cry out the grief and guilt.

There’s this weird belief in American society that real men don’t cry. Well, you don’t get more masculine than Julio Sanchez. But being strong wasn’t what helped him start down that road to healing, it was the tears, the ability to let his emotions out, that helped him more than anything else. And that’s why I love Provenza. Oh, I know, he’s had somewhere in the realm of 4 marriages and failed at all of them. He’s a smartass and gets into loads of trouble at least once every season, always accompanied by Flynn. But he’s also the Daddy of the group. He’s the supporter, the healer, the listener, because deep down under that gruff, grouchy exterior, Provenza cares.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Brando: The Wild One (1953)

Marlon Brando & Mary Murphy in The Wild One

I like rebels, or at least the idea of the rebel as Hollywood depicts it. Marlon Brando really started the trend, followed by the all-too short life and acting career of James Dean. Dean often attributed his look in Rebel without a Cause to Marlon Brando's reckless behavior in The Wild One from 1953. You could even say that there wouldn't have been a James Dean if Marlon Brando hadn't first blazed the trail to the ideal rebel.

Rebels are scary because they thumb their noses at society's demands and expectations. In his "other" life, Johnny Strabler is an normal citizen. But on the weekend, he's the leader of a biker gang that heads out on country roads seeking something to sooth their restless nature. In The Wild One, Johnny's gang literally takes an entire town hostage, partly because Johnny's reluctant to leave, partly because of external circumstances where they can't leave, and partly because a rival gang shows up raring for a fight.

The entire plot is one of volatile, raw energy. These young men are frustrated, but they don't know why; angry, but they can't put a label on their anger. Johnny's reasons for staying longer are different from the rest of his gang. He meets a girl. Duh! And she's a good girl. Which is a sad cliche . . . now. But in the 1950s The Wild One was sort of the first of its kind so for a good girl to be attracted to a brute like Johnny Stabler would have shocked audiences. When a local girl asks him, "What are you rebelling against, Johnny?" he answers with "Whaddaya got?"

That line really says it all. Sometimes just the act of rebellion is enough, the desire to be different from everyone else, to buck tradition. I believe strongly in tradition. I differ from my parents in some ways, but not in the really important ones like faith and politics. I stand fast on my traditions which is why I'm always fascinated by those who fight to throw off tradition as if its some sort of tyranny that needs to be overcome.

While The Wild One is nothing really special it does show Marlon Brando at his most raw, probably his rawest performance apart from A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951. Stories don't always have a happy ending, and sometimes they don't need to. This one isn't the typical romance where the guy gets the girl, in fact, the guy scares the girl in a couple of scenes, and I don't blame her. But it still has this feeling at the end that Johnny is better for having stopped in that town and met Kathie. Maybe he'll turn out all right in the end, after he's sowed his wild oats. I don't like to give up on people which is why I understand Kathie's desire to be a good influence to Johnny. She's a good girl and she thinks Johnny's better than he seems. We can only hope she's right!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Being an ISFJ - Part Two

Yes, Samwise Gamgee is an ISFJ

 I know that someone must be reading these ISFJ posts because they're getting hits, so I hope they're useful to you. :) If you have any questions, just post a comment. Or if you've got something you wish I would cover, let me know.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Brando: A Countess from Hong Kong (1966)

Marlon, darling, dearest, I love you, but you have never been, will never be, a comedic actor. You are not Bob Hope or Bing Crosby, so falling flat on your face makes the audience rather wince instead of laugh.

With that made perfectly clear, A Countess from Hong Kong still manages to be pretty cute. Sophia Loren plays a woman whose parents were Russian nobility and fled to Hong Kong during the uprising when Czar Nicholas and his family were murdered. She was born in Hong Kong, but her parents died when she was only 13. Her life has been difficult and sordid. One night she is introduced to His Excellency Ogden Mears, the Ambassador to Saudi Arabia played by, you guessed it, Marlon Brando. After a wild night of partying, Ogden wakes up in his cruise cabin with a hangover and no memory of the voluptous Natascha who so impressed him the previous night. She minces out of the closet, and he nearly falls over the bed in shock. The ship has set sail, Natascha has no passport, and he has no way of easily keeping his reputation and still getting Natascha off the ship unseen.

And so begins a Charlie Chaplin directed film that sort of falls in the middle of both Chaplin and Brando fan's expectations.

The story is totally cute and fun, sort of like The Divorce of Lady X with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon in 1938. It's just such a shame that Brando played Ogden Mears in such an uptight manner. I blame it mostly on the screenplay, though. There's a few scenes that are only described, like when Natascha nurses Ogden back to health after a severe bout of seasickness. However, the audience is not partisan to these scenes. Instead, we hear them talk about it. Before the seasickness Natascha and Ogden can barely stand each other, but afterwards they're well on their way to falling in love. What? Don't talk! Show me!

Despite all of this, I still own this movie and have no intentions of ever selling it. It's a cute, fluffy, somewhat faulty, piece of Chaplin directorial work and Brando acting that could have been so much better, but only ends up being average. Such a shame! *sniff*

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Marlon Brando: Hollywood's Classic Leading Man for June

Marlon Brando (as if you couldn't tell)
I've decided to try something new this summer, or rather, something old. Every month through August, I will pick a classic leading man. I will watch his films and write posts accordingly for each one that I see. Some may be only a few paragraphs long or they may be veritable essays of adoration depending on my mood and the impression I got from the film.

Yes, I am beginning with a favorite of mine, but that's not necessarily bad. Who knows, if this works and I enjoy it, I may keep it up indefinitely, branching out even for classic leading ladies. But for the month of June, I chose Marlon Brando.

Ahhh, Marlon Brando, was there ever a more perfect specimen of a man? When people hear his name, they immediately envision the classic Francis Ford Coppola film, The Godfather, and they would be quite right that Marlon's role as Vito Corleone is ground-breaking. However, Marlon acted for at least two decades before The Godfather came into existence. So, while I may write a post on Coppola's triumph, I am mostly going to revisit his films from the 50s and early 60s, those magnificent drool-fests of male perfection that I will love until my dying breath.

Which shall I watch first? Hmm, you'll have to wait and see. I'll just rifle through my 15 or so Brando films and pick one at random. Maybe I'll do eenie-meenie-minie-moe. Expect a post within the next few days!

All my posts done for Marlon Brando in June 2013. :)
  1.  A Countess from Hong Kong 
  2.  The Wild One
  3. Sayonara
  4. A Streetcar Named Desire
  5. On the Waterfront
  6. Guys & Dolls
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