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Miiko Taka, who made her film debut with a starring turn opposite Marlon Brando in Sayonara, the 1957 Korean War-set drama about “defiant desire,” has died. She was 97.
News of her death was posted Jan. 4 on social media by a grandson. Details of her death were not available, with her son informing The Hollywood Reporter through a spokesperson that his family did not want to participate in an obituary.
Taka also appeared with Glenn Ford and her Sayonara co-star Miyoshi Umeki in the war comedy Cry for Happy (1961), alongside Bob Hope in A Global Affair (1963), opposite James Garner (another Sayonara actor) in Norman Jewison’s The Art of Love (1965) and with Cary Grant in his last film, Walk Don’t Run (1966), set during the Tokyo Olympics.
Directed by Joshua Logan and adapted by Paul Osborn from a 1954 novel by James Michener, Sayonara featured Brando as U.S. Air Force fighter pilot Lloyd “Ace” Gruver and Taka as an elegant Japanese dancer named Hana-ogi. They fall for each other but face hostility in an era that frowned on interracial romances and marriages.
Logan looked to cast an unknown after his first choice for the role, Audrey Hepburn, turned him down. The Seattle-born Taka was working as a clerk at a travel agency in Los Angeles when she was hired, even though she had no acting experience.
In his review for The New York Times, Bosley Crowther called her “a flute-like beauty — a really lovely, serene and soothing impulse.”
The Warner Bros. film was nominated for 10 Oscars, including best picture, and won four, with Red Buttons and Umemi taking the supporting acting trophies. (Umeki was the first woman of Asian descent to receive an Academy Award.)
In 1958, Taka visited Britain for the first time and was proclaimed “one of the most exciting film discoveries for many years.”
Miiko Shikata was born in Seattle on July 24, 1925, and raised in L.A. During World War II, she and her family were sent to a Japanese internment camp outside Phoenix.
Taka introduced Sayonara to audiences in the trailer, and on the poster, she is “described as an exquisite new Japanese star in James A. Michener’s story of defiant desire.” Rare for its time, the film dealt head-on with racism and prejudice and had what many consider the first onscreen kiss on the mouth between a leading white star and an Asian.
Taka followed up Sayonara with an appearance on a 1959 episode of Hawaiian Eye and showed up on TV in the 1960s on The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., I Spy and The Wild Wild West.
Her big-screen résumé also included the war films Hell to Eternity (1960) and Operation Bottleneck (1961), a remake of Lost Horizon (1973), Paper Tiger (1975), The Big Fix (1978) and The Challenge (1982).
She also appeared on the acclaimed NBC 1980 miniseries Shogun, starring Richard Chamberlain.
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