The Teahouse of the August Moon is a 1956 motion picture comedy satirising the U.S. occupation of Japan following the end of World War II. 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.
Playing the role of a Japanese villager from Okinawa was to prove a challenge for Marlon Brando's method acting techniques. He spent two months studying local culture, speech and gestures.
The role of Colonel Wainwright Purdy III was to have been played by Louis Calhern but he died in Tokyo during filming, being replaced by Paul Ford.
Conventionally, the film stands firmly within the genre of official goes native stories such as Local Hero. A stuffy bureaucrat is sent to resolve a perceived problem in a community but becomes socialised into a more permissive way of life. When the official's superiors come to audit him, conflicts in values are exposed with results comic or tragic. Perhaps Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness is the prototype of such tales.
However, in the occupation of Japan, the US were aiming to nurture democracy, respect for human rights and liberal values. The occupation had seen not only reconstruction but also the trial and execution of those held responsible for war crimes. With the occupation only ended in 1952, the subject ought to feel like an odd one for a light popular comedy. Moreover, the Japanese people are cast in a humane and civilised, if somewhat patronising, light alongside the officious and bureaucratic Americans.
The film was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Motion Picture Promoting International Understanding but by the 1970s, cultural idiosyncrasies and pronunciation struggles had ceased to be a subject of fun. A 1971 musical version of the play (Lovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen) flopped.
Captain Fisby (Glenn Ford) is sent to Americanise the village of Tobiki in Okinawa and retains the services of local Sakini (Brando) as interpretor. Fisby encourages the villagers to build a school but they want to build a teahouse and cannot afford both. Fisby gradually becomes assimilated to the local customs and mores with the help of Sakini and Lotus Blossom, a young geisha, (Kyô) and is ultimately surprised by his superior officer, Colonel Wainwright Purdy III (Paul Ford), in the teahouse wearing a bathrobe as an improvised kimono. Despite Purdy's anger and intended punishment of both Fisby and the villagers, the village is chosen by the SCAP as an example of successful democratisation. This deus ex machina enables all parties to end the drama recognising and celebrating their cultural diversity and common humanity.