The story of Sanshiro Sugata, a young man who wants to learn the new art of judo. A wise teacher reveals to Sanshiro that judo is not merely a means of combat nor a demonstration of ... See full summary »
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
Before you seek this out, know that it is an incomplete restoration. Bits are missing. Some edits are inexplicable and some scenes are muddy.
Having said that, you will find this to be one of Kurasawa's most interesting projects. Two things...
One is that this was made by the bad guys during the war. Incredible atrocities were being committed in the name of racial superiority and the supposition of a refined nobility. Japanese, German and American films (even Italian ones) turned to reinforcing the national character. In the Japanese case, that was linked to matters of honor refracted through Shinto spirituality, honor of a past ideal that never really existed, which in US terms means what "conservatives" tout.
It was a terrible exercise, more obvious in looking at it from the outside and knowing the context. Kurosawa's story was every bit as engineered for this purpose as any Reifenstahl project. Oddly, this film is fragmented because the sensors thought it not ennobling enough. One presumes that Kurosawa's moments of reflection, and possibly a whole love story, were among the half of the movie that was removed. So just on the level of the story itself (a modernized samurai tale), its of interest.
But it IS Kurasawa, so we have to pay attention to the way the camera engages with the space. This is his very first film as director, though he had written before. In all his films he registers the camera first in a space and then allows action to happen in that space. He has three periods of different types of spatial identity, each illuminating, each inventing new language. But this is before all that and what we have is clear, overt experimentation with space. Some of it is quite thrilling, quite independent of the fascist movement of the story proper.
Even here, he is breaking the rules of flat Japanese composition from eons of painting. He was considered unJapanese in his native country and never very popular. So at the same time that those censors were chopping story and posture they must have been shaking their heads at this three dimensional art, and wondering if they had already lost the war and if they won, what for?
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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