Sanshiro, a strong stubborn youth, comes to the city to apprentice at a jujitsu school. His first night, he sees Yano in action, a master of judo, a more spiritual art, and he begs to be Yano's student. As the youth learns technique, he must also learn "satori," the calm acceptance of Nature's law. If he can balance strength and control, then judo may become the training regimen for the city's police, Sanshiro can gain respect from an old teacher in a jujitsu school, and he can win the hand of Sayo, that teacher's daughter, who is also sought by jujitsu's finest master, the implacable Higaki, who vows to kill Sanshiro in a midnight fight on a windswept mountainside. Written by
Excited about his prospects at filming the movie, Akira Kurosawa visited Toho producer Nobuyoshi Morita in the middle of the night immediately after reading it to beg him to buy the rights. Morita agreed to send someone out the next day. See more »
"Sugata Sanshirô" (1943) is a masterpiece that inspired countless sequels and imitations glorifying martial arts practitioners and their quest for inner and outer perfection. The 91-minute restored film we know today is still missing important scenes. Here is a short history of that censorship.
According to a very interesting online article by Walter Klinger, the film was submitted to two distinct forms of censorship. First of all, during production, from government censors urging Kurosawa to make a film glorifying Japanese warriors and their spirit of devotion to "chuukou", i.e. "loyalty and devotion" understood as an infallible principle requiring absolute loyalty to one's superiors and blind obedience to orders (a principle that made Kamikaze pilots possible). In the pond scene, Sanshirô's master urges him to follow "chuukou" and after his nighttime revelation, Sanshirô bows obediently to his master.
In the post-war period, all references to this principle were outlawed by the General Headquarters of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Forces (SCAF - the occupying Americans) as an anti-social remnant of Japanese feudalism which was perceived as the root cause of Japan's stubborn refusal to surrender. Not only was the "chuukou" word excised from that scene in mid-sentence (and never put back in, even in the "restored" version) but all subsequent editions of the novel the film was based on, even in animé or manga form or in film remakes and sequels, were also excised for the same reason, which means that the hero was reduced to finding "satori" in other more universal Zen sources or nuanced feelings, such as the love of his beloved, the realization of his own selfishness or respect for his master.
As post-war young Japanese people weren't particularly fond of "chuukou" to begin with, especially as it concerned blind devotion to tradition and unconditional loyalty to one's parents (or employers), this was not seen as a major problem.
The SCAF, however, also outlawed scenes of feudal loyalty, cruel violence and the "undemocratic idea of revenge", "feudal" commodities for which the Japanese public never really lost its tremendous appetite, and which eventually became the main themes of Yakuza, samurai and martial arts films. Furthermore, martial arts, including judo, with their stigma of "warrior's ways" and "blind obeisance", were also banned from government-sponsored settings like schools and police departments, until 1950, at the very time when they were conquering the rest of the civilized world, including America.
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