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Sanshiro Sugata More at IMDbPro »Sugata Sanshirô (original title)

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30 out of 36 people found the following review useful:

Depth

Author: tedg (tedg@filmsfolded.com) from Virginia Beach
17 June 2007

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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16 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

Excellent

9/10
Author: artzau from Sacramento, CA
6 November 2000

This film was Kurasawa's big splash. The story based on the legends of Shiro Sakata, Jigoro Kano's (the founder of Kodokan Judo) bad boy is told with the art that only Kurasawa could muster. Fantastic camera work, tense and controlled action and done when Japan was losing the war. The film was competently remade in the early 60's with Mifune and Koyama. But, Koyama could not capture the simple intensity of Fujita in the original title role. A great monument to one of the greatest directors of all times, this film must be seen more than once to be thoroughly enjoyed.

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13 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

AN EARLY MASTERPIECE? NOT QUITE BUT...

7/10
Author: quinolas
27 November 2001

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Kurosawa's first feature. It is an action film but not of the samurai genre. Nevertheless we can already notice Kurosawa's outstanding use of editing techniques that give an amazing sense of movement and speed to the judo fight sequences. He will later develop these techniques to greater effects in more famous films such as Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood and Yojimbo.

Two sequences are particularly remarkable. The first one occurs at the beginning of the film. Members of a rival jujitsu school, which Sanshiro had joined that night, ambush Yano, the founder of Judo. Even though outnumbered, Yano manages to throw all his opponents in the river nearby. Whereas the camera focusing on the gang pans continuously and is almost always in motion, the shots of Yano waiting for them to attack are always static. This contrast in shots suggests Yano's fighting skill superiority as well as a greater physical and mental control of himself. Sugata is impressed and rapidly helps Yano to pull the rickshaw left abandoned by its owner. For this, he gets rid of his geta shoes. They leave but the camera is fixed on the shoes. We see them getting worn out (bystanders kick them, a dog bites them, rain & snow fall on them). Eventually we see one of the shoes stuck on a grille. The next sequence starts with a crane shot of a narrow street where Sugata is seen surrounded by a threatening crowd. He moves frantically backs and forwards throwing people to the ground. He is now a judo master. We have not seen his training, but the shoes sequence has provided a metaphor of this achievement, suggesting that Sugata has been through a painful and tough training. Even though he is learned the judo techniques he has not achieved the mastery of Yano. He lacks the restraint and coolness of Yano. His fighting resembles that of the members of the jujitsu gang who had attacked his master previously. The next sequence shows Yano telling him that he lacks control over his emotions, he has achieved some a physical skill but not a spiritual one. The next sequence I would like to talk about occurs at the end of the film. Sugata is seen having dinner with Hansuke Murai, played by Shimura Takashi and whom Sugata had previously defeated in combat, and his daughter Sayo who is very fond of Sugata. The dinner is interrupted by the abrupt appearance of Gennosuke Higaki, a jujitsu fighter wearing western clothes and smoking cigarettes, who challenges Sugata to a duel to death. Higaki's entrance is accompanied by wind. Wind is used as a metaphor for the threatening West. This motif will be later used in Yojimbo for the arrival of Tatsuya Nakadai carrying a revolver to the town (a sign of Western power). This is the only suggestion made in the film pointing at Japan being at war, even though it was made for war propaganda. The scene then moves to the actual duel, which takes place on a hillside. The wind is still blowing and clouds are seen passing really fast above their heads. Kurosawa's use of weather to complement the feelings of the characters is outstanding and will become of his trademarks later in his career.

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9 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

a kind of prototype for Kurosawa's future films, aside from being a fine debut

8/10
Author: MisterWhiplash from United States
26 May 2007

There's a great small scene about ten to fifteen minutes into Sanshiro Sugata where the young and inexperienced Sugata, who has just gotten into a turbulent street-fight, is told by a judo instructor- the one he wants to be his instructor- that he has no humanity, at least not to be fighting Judo, and that giving judo skills to one without humanity is "like giving a knife to a lunatic." Did Akira Kurosawa know that one of his paramount concerns as a filmmaker would be to tell stories where characters were faced with this problem, of either gaining appropriate humanity, or losing it, or having the difficult but rewarding task of embracing it for him/herself? Probably not exactly, at the least that his other end of the career spectrum- Madadayo- would be precisely concerned with this ideal, of a man having to deal with self worth, and the skills that one's been given in life properly and with humility (and, in essence, Kurosawa himself as a director). But it's of interesting note, at least in the scope of his first film, Sanshiro Sugata (Judo Saga), which contains many of the trademarks of a Kurosawa film, and at the same time the fiery passion, if only in big spurts, of a filmmaker right on the edge of a career for Toho studios.

There are little notes to take for Kurosawa fans, little things that will give many a grin and even a laugh at what pops up: the classic "wipes" as means of scene transitions; the usage of slow-motion during an action/fight sequence, in this case at the end of a fight as the opponent conks out and the flag (this part in slow-motion) falls to the ground; Takashi Shimura, who appeared in more Kurosawa films than Mifune, as one of Sugata's opponents, who's a tough cookie but a fair fight who at the end gives Sugata praise as a great fighter; symbolism in usage of the sky, flowers, and other Earthly means as a way to communicate the environment of a scene, and a specific nature about it, as much as the characters in it. All the same, this is not to say that Sanshiro Sugata is exactly a masterwork right off the bat for the 32 year old filmmaker; the use of certain symbols, like when Sugata is in the mucky pond trying to have his own form of penance and snaps out of it once seeing a flower right in front of his face, isn't really as effective as intended and comes off as more of a cliché than anything else. The subplot with Sugata and the daughter is undercooked as romance, even as brief as it is. And the fact that the film now stands as missing 17 minutes is a hindrance; one has to comment on what remains as opposed to what could have been a complete work from Kurosawa (not as detrimental as the Idiot, but still bothersome all the same as in the title-card transitions).

But as an act of passionate action film-making, it stands its ground some 60+ years later in containing some intense scenes involving Sugata's training (I liked seeing Sugata coming face to face with a man who wants to challenge his boss, and dressed in more Western garb than anyone else in the film), and more specifically the actual fight scenes. While its a given that Kurosawa is a pro at getting down stubborn men- and professional traditionalist men for that matter- getting down and dirty and violent, it's impressive in hindsight from the rest of his career that he could add tension just by tilting the camera up during the street-fight, or in staying on the faces of the fighters, and numerous reaction shots, during the fights in the arena area. The Shimura fight especially has an aura of being as thrilling as a modern fight sequence, with aforementioned humanity coming through with every pummel and thrust and toss-up of one character over another. This all leads up to the climax, which is not only a highlight of the film but a highlight in the history of classic Japanese action sequences, as we see Kurosawa already relying on the sky, the grass pushed and pulled by wind, and the compassion of the others around the two opponents (the old man and the girl) as a fight to the death, seen mostly out of sight through the grass, proceeds intensely more due to the intent and emotion of the characters than traditional stunts and fast-pace editing.

Sanshiro Sugata is a worthy production in the cinematic cannon of Kurosawa, acting as a very good stand-alone effort for genre fans while speaking to his practically intuitive cinematic strengths at controlling the pace of a scene and meaning via certain visual cues and enjoyable performances garnered by the pro actors. It does show some of its age, and along with the cuts made in the only version available today (in a print, by the way, that is rather horrid considering who the director is) it had to face some given restrictions due to Japan's censorship laws, but it's also a cunning display of a debut showcasing the talents of a confident director in a film that was meant to be seen by a mass audience, if only for diversion during the war.

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7 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

Outstanding from Akira

Author: Ethan Kaye from Pennsylvania
2 July 2000

Sugata sanshiro is a wonderful feel-good film. It's tough to say that about a movie with martial arts where violence abounds, but Kurosawa's subtle approach to character development and mood carry this film above and beyond. Even those who don't look for the art in films will see the beauty of this direction. The definition of characters is difficult to follow in the early scenes, but Susumu Fujita does a marvelous job with his portrayal of an-unsure judo student. Definitely a film that deserves your full attention.

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9 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

A master piece... one of the greatest.

10/10
Author: (ateeqimran@yahoo.com) from India
14 July 2007

I had never heard of Akira Kurosava. I didn't know anything about Japanese B/W films at all!.

And it proved a blessing for me as I watched this movie without even so much as battling an eyelid. Growing amazed an appreciative at the same time.

There is a strange kind of stillness in Kurosava's direction. Not the stillness to make you impatient but the stillness to make you feel the beauty of the moment, to get inside the character's mind.

It's a story about a lad who is headstrong but learns the truth of life along the way.

It's a movie about Judo and Jujitsu. It's a movie about budding love. It's a movie about a student and a great master. And it's a movie about Kurosava's greatness.

You can watch it for any reason and you'll not be disappointed. I wish all those movie makers of senseless violence, learn something from this one... while I find ways to get my hands on another of Kurosava's master pieces.

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5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

How and why this film was censored

10/10
Author: Benoît A. Racine (benoit-3) from Toronto, Ontario, Canada
23 March 2010

"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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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

The first step to mastery

7/10
Author: Luis Guillermo Cardona from Colombia
7 April 2010

The modernization of Japan began with the Meiji era in 1867. Mutsuhito, who proclaimed himself Emperor Meiji (loyalty to the rule) to ascend the throne, began a series of significant changes included the abolition of privileges, granted the right to wear a name (hitherto exclusive to samurai and the nobility) and opened the voting for the election of governors, among other measures that began the decline of more than 250 years of feudalism, to make way for the Meiji democracy would go until 1912, and that would open the way for Japan to begin to become a society, certainly more balanced.

Sugata Sanshiro proudly carries his name. Man of the people, attending a school of Jiu Jitsu, a martial art which derive Judo, a risky way to debug the techniques, paradoxically, called "art of softness". But when he meets the skill of the master judoka Yano, Sanshiro decides to become his student and then faced the challenges that will give him a place in the new institute.

What follows then are the circumstances of life that prove the man to his ideals and give opportunity to specify the strength of their inclinations. For it is with chiselases which are polished gems and it is with fire that demonstrates the strength of the metal. But there are things that weigh in man, as love is born and who never wants to hurt, and then, when man is forced to the difficult choice between self- interest or what benefits the group.

I think, "Sugata Sanshiro", was a good start for the master Kurosawa. The film denotes human sense, defending the rules and the collective interest, as it should be, but also understands the meaning of love and compassion, and rejoices as they deserve. The director shows fairly distanced with the scenes of violence, and although I'm sure weighed and weighed now more than ever, this gives a clear account of its central goal was the feeling and no physical force. After all, is in being and not in the domination, as a man can know himself, and as the teacher Yano says:"The way is the search for truth that governs the nature of man, as this is what will give us a peaceful death."

It must have been that this first film was well received at the box office since, two years later, the third Akira Kurosawa film, continue the story with the title "Soku Sugata Sanshiro". There is only regrettable that so valuable a work, with moments of undeniable beauty plastic, and is committed to a positive outlook on life, Japan's clumsy censorship of the time (¿perhaps there will not be clumsy censorship?), has cut about 600 feet, which may never recover and leave the film in some way unfinished.

Against all, I think any fan of the great Japanese filmmaker, should be deprived of seeing this remarkable debut.

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5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Outstanding from Akira

Author: Ethan Kaye from Pennsylvania
2 July 2000

Sugata sanshiro is a wonderful feel-good film. It's tough to say that about a movie with martial arts where violence abounds, but Kurosawa's subtle approach to character development and mood carry this film above and beyond. Even those who don't look for the art in films will see the beauty of this direction. The definition of characters is difficult to follow in the early scenes, but Susumu Fujita does a marvelous job with his portrayal of an-unsure judo student. Definitely a film that deserves your full attention.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Spiffing debut

9/10
Author: GyatsoLa from Ireland
3 May 2010

From the very first shot of this very first Kurosawa film, you know you are in good hands. What seems like a standard moving shot is revealed to be the subjective viewpoint of the future hero, Sugata. From here, the film proceeds at a fast clip (aided by some crude chopping done by contemporary censors) to set what proved to be the blueprint for the Asian action flick. And frankly, few future films have improved on it. Kurosawas imaginative camera work and brilliant editing keeps the whole thing very watchable and the subtlety of the character development is still well in advance of the typical modern action film. The famous scene where Sugata finds himself stuck in a muddy pond, trying to find some sort of enlightenment is still fascinating and beautiful. And typically, the film ends with an amazing fight scene - the fight choreography might be primitive by todays standards, but the glorious moonlit mountain top scenery is still thrilling - its been imitated numerous times, but why watch the imitators when the original is still best? You can of course say this about pretty much any Kurosawa film.

I saw this on the Australian Mad Men DVD. The print quality is pretty poor and the translation isn't great. And it would have been nice if they had done more work to reconstruct the original cut - some deleted scenes are added as extras. I suspect the original Kurosawa cut was much better, sadly, we may never see it.

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