Sugata Sanshiro (Judo Saga) (Judo Story) Reviews
With his first film "Sanshiro Sugata," writer-director Akira Kurosawa already shows a great deal of promise in this compelling morality tale. As he proves, it is easy for somebody to be strong like Sanshiro but that does not mean he will make a great athlete.(Plus, I remember hearing somewhere that judo turns the opponent's strength back against himself.) That's not all as he also has to learn how to be humble and respect others. And I suppose it is also a mark of the times that the one seedy character is also the only one wearing western clothing.
Sanshiro Sugata (subtitled Judo Saga) tells the story of a young man who seeks to learn jujitsu, but upon seeing his prospective sensei thwarted in an attack on a rival instructor chooses to follow this man and his new art of judo. Don't expect any nefarious plots by criminal syndicates with innocent lives hanging in the balance. Sanshiro Sugata is more like an American boxing film in that it focuses mainly on the hero's personal development and his rise to become a great fighter.
And rather than the flying kicks and fists of fury that characterize modern entries in the genre, this movie uses pure judo and jujitsu, which consists of the combatants struggling shoulder to shoulder seeking to throw the other, with only the occasional block or leg-sweep. The fighting here is simple but authentic, and fairly well staged. In between the fights, we see Sanshiro train, develop a budding romance, and learn that a warrior's spirit is as important as his skill. There is of course a villain, instantly recognizable as such because of his resemblance to Snidely Whiplash, and of course they fight before it's all over.
I must confess that the villain is never given much characterization, nor is his hatred for Sanshiro explained. More interesting is Murai, an aging jujitsu master who faces Sanshiro in the annual police tournament. He is fighting for the honor of his dojo, and to make his daughter proud. Their match, pitting Murai's skill and experience against Sanshiro's strength and agility was the movie's high point for me.
The film's low budget does show at times, mainly in the set pieces and the low quality of the night shooting. More seriously, the significance of some scenes isn't clear, and others felt like they should have been developed further, such as when the daughter of a fallen rival seeks vengeance on the hero. However, this may be due to the fact that wartime authorities cut a great deal of footage, most of which was never recovered.
Sanshiro Sugata is a long way from the kind of movies Kurosawa would be making just a few short years later, but it's not bad for a debut film, and there are signs of the greatness he would later achieve.
Akira Kurosawa's directorial debut centers on judo master Shogoro Yano's zealous protégé, Sanshiro Sugata, who shuns jujitsu after being lured by the spiritual aspect of judo.
Sanshiro Sugata is an impressive directorial debut if nothing else. Here Kurosawa takes a real simple (and now cliche'd) story and manages to find interesting ways of telling the tale. Many elements that would later become Kurosawa signatures are on display; such as using Meteorology to convey setting and the tone of the scene. In fact, one really gets the impression that Kurosawa was highly confident in this debut. There are some images in this picture that rank up there with Kurosawa's best; the muddy pond scene and the finale with the villain are the most noteworthy, but there are more.
However, though already very well developed as a filmmaker, he seemed a bit overzealous. He sometimes tries too hard to capture the imagination of his audience, the camera strays a tad too often and other times it lingers, resulting in a picture with excellent craftsmanship but poor pacing.
Luckily, the pacing is really the only downside to the film. The set decoration and costume designs are fabulous, the acting strong, likewise with cinematography, resulting in a 1940's picture thats undeniably pleasant to look at.
So yes, Legendary Kurosawa's directorial debut has it's flaws, but it's an entertaining work, and a proud and boisterous exclamation of the arrival of a cinema auteur.
A shame that the original version is unavailable.
the only thing that really hurts it is it's disjointed narrative which was caused by censorship.
Throw that cockblocker, Sugata! Throw him hard!