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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 »
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In this government-suggested sequel, Sugata again grows as a judo master, and demonstrates his (and by extension, all Japanese) superiority to the foreign warrior. Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I saw the Kurosawa's first film, Sugata Sanshiro (1943), many years ago and was much impressed by the story and the spirit of martial arts, thus portrayed. It wasn't my introduction to Kurosawa, however, having already seen Seven Samurai (1954) and Yojimbo (1961).
Now, having seen the sequel to Sugata Sanshiro, one thing is certain: full appreciation for the story within the first film and this sequel is only possible, in my opinion, if you are, in fact, a practitioner of martial arts also which I am, and have been for thirty years. Note that I'm not excluding appreciation of Kurosawa's skill as a director; that's something that everyone can recognize and applaud. Even with these early films, Kurosawa's trademarks are clear: long silences, tightly framed sets where action moves across and around it, long close-ups of faces, objects and such like, much face-to-face dialog, and music that is generally muted.
This sequel is ostensibly about Japanese-American relationships in 1887, when Sugata is finally seduced into a match-up between himself and an American boxing champion. The film was made in 1945, soon after the Japanese surrender. Hence, the reason for that part of the story line is clear: even in the defeat of war, the Japanese martial spirit remains supreme. It is an understandable need on the part of Japan, and Kurosawa, at that time.
However, Kurosawa, and others involved no doubt, must have realized that there was a problem: the essence of martial arts is defense, not offense. So, it's entirely uncharacteristic for a true martial arts student to actively search out a contest that he knows has usually one outcome only: death for one of the competitors. Hence, Sugata must be shown as weak and indecisive at first so that he falls from grace, in his own eyes, when he defeats the American, who, fortunately, is not killed.
Sugata's salvation, however, as a true follower of the martial way, only comes when he meets the challenge of a karate champion in a fight to the death, during a winter storm on the side of a mountain. That fight scene is so realistic it's almost sublime: Kurosawa has captured exactly how two indomitable spirits stand and wait for the other to make the first move because the first mistake means death for one of them. Instead, the elements defeat both of them, with the karate master falling down a steep incline when Sugata tosses him over his shoulder. Honor for both, however, is assuaged: they spend the night in a hut together, where both recover from their efforts while the karate master's brother keeps watch.
There's a crucial sub-plot with that brother that I'll leave you to discover because it's a turning point in Sugata's life that actually saves him from death. See this and you'll know why. And savor that final scene when Sugata wakes from his sleep to face a new day and, for him, a new beginning as a judo ka (judo student) and as human being. It's pure Kurosawa as only he could do...
My only puzzlement with this story is the presence of karate students and practitioners in Japan in the 19th century. From the history I've read, karate was introduced into Japan only in 1922 when Funakoshi Gichin of Okinawa was invited to provide a demonstration in Tokyo. However, I'll bow to Kurosawa's better knowledge about his own country and society.
If you practice martial arts, you should enjoy this film. If you're curious, I'd recommend you try to see both.
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