3 April 2011 | kirksworks
Delicately told and heart felt
As an American married to a Japanese woman this movie really surprised both me and my wife for it's honest depiction of racism in America shortly after WWII. For a Hollywood film of 1952, "Japanese War Bride" is a balanced portrayal of race relations between white Americans and both Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans. It's a hard film to find and the DVD available is a DVD-R, with decent but not great quality. Still, the disc I found is very watchable.
Wounded during his service in the Korean War, American Jim Sterling falls in love with his Japanese nurse, Tae Shimizu, and visits her home in Japan to ask her father for permission to marry. Actually, the film makers never went to Japan. That scene was shot at what is now the Yamashiro Restaurant, in the Hollywood hills, overlooking Grauman's Chinese Theater. But most the story takes place and was shot in Salinas, California.
Upon arriving at the family home with his new bride, Jim is confronted by suppressed and not so suppressed hostilities towards his new bride. Initially, Jim's mother has a hard time relating to Tae, but the good nature of Tae and her desire to win over the appreciation of her husband's mother succeeds. Watching the mother finally open her hardened heart to Tae in a scene where Tae massages her mother-in-law's back, is quite touching, nicely performed by both Shirley Yamaguchi as Tae and Louise Lorimer as mother Sterling.
Marie Winsor, who made a career out of vengeful, hateful women in films like "The Killing" and "The Narrow Margin," excels here in the same kind of role, as Jim's sister-in-law who still holds a torch. Nobody seemed to do these kinds of roles as well as she did.
In fact, the whole cast is good, if a bit obvious and stilted in places, due to the acting style of the day. Nevertheless, the raw emotions people display in this story come across as honest and not forced. Yamaguchi's performance as Tae is easily the most polished and subtle of all the actors. Watching her learn and respond to the various attitudes white America shows her as she struggles to maintain her dignity is beautifully portrayed by Yamaguchi. Clearly, this actress knew quite well what she was portraying.
And Don Taylor as Jim, who may be a bit too vigorous for some, still he comes across as fair-minded and the genuine affection he shows for Tae is heartwarming. Their love scenes evoke a lot of charm. It took many years for Hollywood to show a white male movie star kissing a black actress on screen. it didn't happen until 1971 when Charlton Heston kissed Rosalind Cash in "The Omega Man." Yet, in "Japanese War Bride" there are very many scenes where Don Taylor passionately kisses Shirley Yamaguchi on screen. Although Taylor was not a big star like Heston, this film was clearly ahead of it's time.
My wife told me that a large percentage of the men who married Japanese war brides ended up in divorce, some of the women coming to America to find their husbands already married to white women. Yet, this film does a good job of capturing a shameful period of American history that did exist, and still exists in some places today.
The director, King Vidor, was clearly a romantic, and though many of his films are somewhat dated, they still pull strongly at my own heart strings. As a romantic myself, I respond to his films. "The Crowd," "Bird of Paradise," "Stella Dallas," "Comrade X," "H. M. Pulham, Esq," "Duel in the Sun," and even his less than stellar version of "War and Peace" all have moments that get through to me.
Though the ending is a bit overly dramatic, as a film about relations between Americans and Japanese, "Japanese War Bride" is, in my opinion, superior to and less soapy than 1957's "Sayonara," a much higher profile film. If you're a romantic and can find a copy of "Japanese War Bride," I think you'll be surprised by it's depth and honesty.