At the movies · Home life · Sport · Word of the week

Word of the week: Sayonara

The Tokyo Olympics finished yesterday. We had got used to the Olympic Breakfast programme every morning on BBC1, catching up on the overnight action, and we’ll miss it. The show usually involved news of gold medals for Team GB, right up to yesterday morning when Jason Kenny (Keirin, cycling) and Lauren Price (boxing) completed the medal tally to leave GB fourth in the table, behind USA, China and host nation Japan in the first three places.  

Just before 12 noon (UK time) my wife and daughter were on the sofa in the living-room ready to watch the closing ceremony. My son and I were still playing our daily games of pool, something we have done every day since his birthday last year (as I noted in this piece). I have been joking that pool will be an Olympic event in Paris in 2024, so we now only have three years to prepare for it. It won’t be included, as far as I know, but one of the newly added sports this time round provided me with one of the highlights of the last fortnight: BMX Freestyle, in which Charlotte Worthington won gold.  

When our pool games were done, I checked on the action in the living-room to find that my wife and daughter had given up within 10 minutes and were watching “Brooklyn Nine Nine” on Netflix. My son and I went upstairs to watch on the other TV and kept half an eye on the closing ceremony for the next hour or two. One of the commentators was having a little trouble recognizing all the flags, understandably, but that was the only sure way to distinguish between the different countries. I didn’t hear either of them say “Sayonara” to Tokyo during the coverage, but I’m sure that someone, somewhere, must have done so. It’s generally used as “Goodbye”. This definition from Lexico.com notes that it is “Informal US”, and its origin is “Japanese, short for sayō naraba, literally ‘if it be thus’.” 

“Sayonara” is also the title of a 1957 film starring Marlon Brando. It was on TV on Saturday afternoon (on London Live) and I caught the last 45 minutes of it. I had seen it before, sometime in the 1980s, the decade when I saw most of Brando’s films. I always enjoyed watching him and spent many hours in repertory cinemas all over London tracking down his output from the 1950s and 60s. There were late-night screenings at the Gate in Notting Hill (“On  the Waterfront”, “The Wild One”) and afternoons at the Electric on Portobello Road, the Scala on Charlotte Street and the Hampstead Everyman (“The Fugitive Kind”, “Night of the Following Day”, “Burn!”, “Reflections in a Golden Eye”, “Julius Caesar”, among others). There were also TV screenings and that was how I saw “Sayonara” and “Teahouse of the August Moon” (1956), both of which were set in Japan.  

“Sayonara” features Oscar-winning performances by Red Buttons (Best Supporting Actor) and Myoshi Umeki (Best Supporting Actress), so even without my interest in watching Brando films I would have watched this one long ago as part of my “Oscars Project”. It seems to have dated reasonably well. What surprised me most was how young Brando looked. When I started looking out for his films in TV and Cinema listings in the early 1980s, I was younger than he was when he made his screen debut (“The Men”, 1950). Now I am more than 20 years older than he was when he made this one. The title of the film is also the last word spoken in it, by Brando himself. It feels like the best way to end this piece: Sayonara 

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