The Teahouse of the August Moon is a 1956 American comedy film satirizing the U.S. occupation and Americanization of the island of Okinawa following the end of World War II in 1945. The motion picture starred Marlon Brando and was directed by Daniel Mann.
John Patrick adapted the screenplay from his own Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning Broadway play of 1953. The play was, in turn, adapted from a 1951 novel by Vern J. Sneider. The film was entered into the 7th Berlin International Film Festival.
Misfit Captain Fisby (Glenn Ford) is sent to Americanize the village of Tobiki on Okinawa, the largest of the Ryukyu Islands. 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 (Kyo Machiko).
To revive the economy, he has the Okinawans manufacture small items to sell as souvenirs, but nobody wants to buy them. These include cricket cages and wooden Japanese footwear called Geta. 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. This, even after Fisby greets McLean wearing Geta, an army bathrobe (which Fisby claims is his kimono) and what Fisby terms an "air-conditioned" straw hat (the latter being headwear worn by Okinawan farmers). McLean later proves to be enthusiastic about organic farming.
When Purdy doesn't hear from either officer, he shows up in person and surprises Fisby and McLean, the latter wearing a yukata or summer-weight kimono. Both are leading a rowdy song at a party in full swing in the teahouse. Purdy orders the building destroyed, but in a burst of foresight, the villagers only dismantle the teahouse instead.
Ironically, the village is chosen by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers SCAP as an example of successful American-led democratization. This leads to the teahouse being reassembled without threat of destruction by Colonel Purdy.
Playing the role of an Okinawan villager was to prove an interesting 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 daily to two hours of make-up applied to make him appear Asian. The success of his role is perhaps best captured by the number of people who watch the movie looking for Brando and then complain that he isn't even in it.
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.
Ford was not the only actor who went on to be cast in a television series role very similar to his Teahouse character. Like the psychiatrist Captain McLean, Eddie Albert's "Oliver Wendell Douglas" on Green Acres (1965-1971) was a licensed professional with an advanced degree, who obsessed about the glory of farming and yearned to give up his practice in favor of tending the soil.
The film made use of Japanese music recorded in Kyoto and sung and danced by Japanese artists. Kyo Machiko (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.