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The Teahouse of the August Moon is a 1956 motion picture comedy satirizing the U.S.marker occupation of Japan following the end of World War II. It starred Glenn Ford and Marlon Brando. John Patrick adapted the screenplay from his own Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning Broadwaymarker play of 1953. The play was, in turn, adapted from a 1951 novel by Vern J. Sneider.

Plot summary

Misfit Captain Fisby (Glenn Ford) is sent to Americanize the village of Tobiki on Okinawamarker. His commanding officer, Colonel Wainwright Purdy III (Paul Ford), assigns him a wily local, Sakini (Marlon Brando), to act as interpreter.

Fisby tries to implement the military's plans, by encouraging the villagers to build a school in the shape of a pentagon, but they want to build a teahouse instead. Fisby gradually becomes assimilated to the local customs and mores with the help of Sakini and Lotus Blossom, a young geisha (Machiko Kyō).

To revive the economy, he has the Okinawans manufacture small items to sell as souvenirs, but nobody wants to buy them. Then Fisby makes a happy discovery. The villagers brew a potent alcoholic beverage in a matter of days, which finds a ready market in the American army. With the influx of money, the teahouse is built in next to no time.

When Purdy sends psychiatrist Captain McLean (Eddie Albert) to check up on Fisby, the newcomer is quickly won over. In a foreshadowing of Albert's later role on Green Acres, he proves to be enthusiastic about organic farming. When Purdy doesn't hear from either officer, he shows up in person and surprises Fisby in a bathrobe used as an improvised kimono, and McLean in a yukata, leading a rowdy song at a party in full swing in the teahouse. Purdy orders it destroyed, but in a burst of foresight, the vilagers only dismantle the teahouse instead of destroying it, and in a deus ex machina, the village is chosen by the SCAP as an example of successful democratisation. The teahouse is then reassembled easily.

Production

Playing the role of a Japanese villager from Okinawamarker was to prove a challenge for Marlon Brando's method acting techniques. He spent two months studying local culture, speech and gestures and for the actual shooting he subjected himself to a daily two hours of make-up.

The role of Colonel Wainwright Purdy III was to have been played by Louis Calhern, but he died in Nara during filming, and was replaced by Paul Ford. Ford had played the part more than a thousand times, having been one of the Broadway originals, and he would play a similarly bumbling, harassed colonel hundreds of times more in Phil Silvers' TV series Bilko.

The film made use of authentic Okinawan and Japanese music, recorded in Kyoto and sung and danced by Japanese artists. Machiko Kyo, (Lotus Blossom), had won acclaim for her dramatic performances in Rashomon and Gate of Hell so this lightly comedic part was a departure for her.

Subsequent events

The film was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Motion Picture Promoting International Understanding. A 1971 musical version of the play Lovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen ran two weeks on Broadway, closing after just 19 performances.

Unfortunately recent restoration of the film has apparently left some edits where memorable lines have been lost. One of the finest exchanges has disappeared: discovering the villagers share their labor and profits equally, Colonel Purdy is sure that is communism in action. Advised by Captain Fisby that this is patterned after the Iowa Farm Cooperative, Purdy wails "Iowa? My God, they are in the Heartland!"

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