Sanshiro Sugata (1943) Poster

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a kind of prototype for Kurosawa's future films, aside from being a fine debut
MisterWhiplash26 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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quinolas27 November 2001
Warning: 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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tedg17 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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How and why this film was censored
benoit-323 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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artzau6 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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Outstanding from Akira
moonisgod2 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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The first step to mastery
luisguillermoc37 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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A master piece... one of the greatest.
ateeqimran14 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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Spiffing debut
GyatsoLa3 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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First Kurosawa's work. Not a bad start at all
fa-oy3 February 2013
First and foremost, in order to appreciate this film, one must face the fact that it is largely incomplete, due to the censorship of the time. Having that into consideration, you will most likely enjoy the film for what it is. Besides, if you are acquainted with Kurosawa's work, then you should not doubt giving this a try.

The outstanding, mind-blowing camera-work that Kurosawa is known for is in a huge development process here, on account of this being his first work; however, even though not yet in a full-fledged form, everything that is meant to be portrayed comes through wonderfully. The story is another factor that definitely enhances the representation taking place in the film, as it matches perfectly with the cinematic techniques Kurosawa puts to work. If there are any inconveniences to be encountered throughout the course of the film, it would all obviously be as a result of the cut-off already mentioned.

The conspicuous acting goes without saying; everyone in the film fits into their roll perfectly. The main character may probably come as overacted to an audience not familiarized with Kurosawa's work, or Japanese cinema for that matter; Susuma Fujita would not be as well-known as Toshiro Mifune would later become, but he undoubtedly does his best here.

The film, despite the cut-off, works perfectly. One can just wonder how much better this could be if it were in its full form, as first conceived by the director.
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I finally found two Kurasawa flicks I didn't like
MartinHafer30 June 2005
There were many reasons I was unimpressed by this film, though one had was certainly not the fault of anyone connected with the movie. Because this and its sequel are rarely seen, they are hard to come by. I finally found them as an import from MEI AH Laser Disc Company--and boy did THAT leave a lot to be desired. The quality of the print was very poor (though MUCH worse on the sequel) and the captioning was beyond abominable! When my daughter saw part of it, she immediately recognized the problem. It seems that many Japanese movies are released by Chinese companies, so the movie is translated from Japanese to Chinese and finally to English--and so much was lost in the translation it practically ruined the experience. For example, "JUDO" is translated as either "Karate" or "Kung Fu" in the movie. If you don't know much about martial arts, there is a world of difference between them. For two movies about Judo, the word NEVER appears in the subtitled version! Also, countless sentences simply make no sense--it's as if the words are almost random at times.

Now, as far as the movie itself goes, this is a purely ordinary film with very little of the magic of later Kurasawa films. It is a not particularly involving movie about a judo master. Some of the cinematography and acting is very good and at other times it isn't--it's obvious Kurasawa is still learning his craft. Also, part one is ruined by the fact that part two is a worse film in most ways-- so the viewer never really gets a payoff for seeing the conclusion.
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Shows the early visual story-telling talent of Kurosawa
ButaNiShinju11 May 2000
For 1942 (before the Pacific war actually started for Japan) one is struck by the modernity of technique, the adventurous way the film is visually narrated. The story is admittedly pretty creaky, but not unenjoyable. Interestingly, the evil characters are in Western clothes, whereas the wholesome good guys are salt-of-the-earth Japanese style, portending the coming war of values with the West.
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Small tribute to a director of great movies.
Josef K.-212 June 1999
Sugata Sanshiro, like any film Akira Kurosawa was even remotely involved with, is flawless. Consider the direction of the tournament fights, or the keen eye the camera has for brilliant imagery. There is a subtle grace that builds within all of his movies, and it is this grace which underlines what he was as a director. Legend.
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Good Early Kurosawa
crossbow01067 June 2008
A movie which gets better as it goes along, this is essentially a story about judo matches and honor. The fight scenes are good, they have a good level of tension. You see some elements to Kurosawa's film making here, like pointing the camera up at the sky, that he has used to even greater effect since. There is a love story here too, in the character Cree's opponents daughter, Siu. My copy of this film left some to be desired, in that the subtitles are not perfect, and it is not a great transfer, but this film has been on IFC, and that is the more recommended way I suggest you see this film. Not perfect, but it holds your interest, and it is Kurosawa, which is enough of an endorsement to watch any film.
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Generally strong debut from Kurosawa
InjunNose4 February 2017
Warning: Spoilers
"Sanshiro Sugata" is a martial arts film with a conscience. It falls a little flat in places, but is for the most part a solid debut from legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. Kurosawa's approach to his craft, which later won him global renown with masterpieces like "Rashomon" and "The Seven Samurai", is already evident in this story of a young man who begins his journey as an awkward, uncertain student, becomes a bullying hellion, and finally assumes the status of a champion judoka who has learned to fight honorably. Susumu Fujita is convincingly green and inexperienced as Sugata, and Ryunosuke Tsukigata cuts an imposing figure as his arch-opponent, Higaki; their climactic confrontation on a windswept mountainside is one of the truly great moments in martial arts cinema. If you've watched and enjoyed Kurosawa's more famous films, check out "Sanshiro Sugata" to see where it all began. Seven and a half stars.
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Best martial arts film ever!
tatsuyanakai22 August 2018
A very important film that needs to be recognized as the best martial arts film ever! As good as Kurosawa Akira samurai stories and Bruce Lee films!
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Sugata Sanshirô: Missing the appeal
Platypuschow26 July 2018
Sugata Sanshirô is recognised as a cult classic, it spawned a sequel and more than one remake but I fail to see the mass appeal of this one.

It tells the story of a man who finds himself through Judo. He trains and becomes a sensation but he finds conflicts between his passion and his heart.

It's an odd little tale, light hearted compared to many of the early Tojo films but still has the recurring theme of honour above all else. In a modern age the concept being taken to this degree doesn't translate well, in fact it comes across really quite daft.

The judo sequences are oddly over the top, the plot is thin and though it's hardly terrible I certainly don't "Get it".

The Good:


The Bad:

Certainly niche

More over the top than you'd expect

Things I Learnt From This Movie:

Slow dancing is customary before a judo competition

30ft throws are normal in Judo

Judo bouts are often to the death

Judo duels are a thing
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Kurosawa's first movie
Leofwine_draca8 May 2017
Warning: Spoilers
SANSHIRO SUGATA is a work of Japanese drama notable for being the first completed feature from famed director Akira Kurosawa. Seen today it's a rather dated effort, quite slow paced, that nonetheless deserves kudos for being one of the earliest martial arts films in existence. The film charts the life and times of a fictionalised martial artist and early judo proponent. It's surprising how many elements of the film later became prevalent in martial arts cinema.

The protagonist must undergo basic training and learn to become a better person under the tutelage of a wise old master. There are duels with fierce and imposing rivals and even a tournament battle. The cast give typically understated performances, and Kurosawa's sense of visual dynamism is what makes this stand out; the final duel on the wind-swept hillside is excellent.
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A promising debut from the great director
Matt-the-Hasp20 December 2016
Kurosawa's debut features a few cinematic flourishes which hint at things to come in his later works, including the confident use of symbolism and of the forces of nature (particularly wind and rain). For a first-time director, it's clear there is an artistic vision and creative talent at work here.

Despite this, the plot does feel rather slight and even conventional, probably due to the influence Western cinema had on Kurosawa at the time. Wartime budget constraints and heavy governmental censoring didn't help this film, and as such, it doesn't feel completely satisfying, particularly when seen next to the works of fellow Japanese contemporary Ozu Yasujiro, or indeed Kurosawa's later career.
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Kurosawa's Limp Maiden Voyage.
net_orders13 August 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Viewed on DVD. Restoration = eight (8) stars; score =eight (8) stars; subtitles = eight (8) stars; lighting = four (4) stars. Director Akira Kurosawa's first released film exhibits uneven inter-scene direction and an overall lack of energy and excitement. The directorial reins are often not held with a firm hand and occasionally seem to be dropped completely. The plot revolves around the fierce competition between two schools of hand-to-hand combat during the late 1800's, and, accordingly, contains the ingredients for a heavy-duty action movie. But Kurosawa's execution is generally limp (with the exception of the first street fight that kicks off the film). Interior arena (i.e., tournament) shots fail to capture much of the excitement and action the viewer might be expecting to see; the actors seem to be performing many of their own stunts; and professional stunt men seem be in very short supply. It gets worse. The climatic, grudge fight (which the film has been building up to) is all but hidden from the viewer: it takes place in a field of tall grass which pretty much obscures what is happening! The opening credits indicate that a portion of the film was removed by Japanese military authorities, and it's interesting to speculate on what may have been censored and where censorship may have occurred. But judging from the extant print (the one allowed to be exhibited circa 1943), the film could have benefited from the removal of even more footage on artistic rather than political grounds! Cinematography (narrow- screen, black and white) is fine although inter-scene lighting is startlingly uneven. The latter adds to the bumpy road encountered by the viewer: film fluidity is poor and the nuts-and-bolts of the editing process are on full, distracting display. Film score is excellent, but totally Western. Subtitles are just right and show that the writer knows her/his grammar. Restoration is quite good except it missed vertical wear lines and dirt toward the end of the movie. WILLIAM FLANIGAN, PhD
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This Director Is Going Places
GeorgeRoots29 April 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Lo and behold, Akira Kurosawa! His 1943 debut shows promise, and this man has a thing for the use for weather and screen wipes. After spending 5 years as a second unit director, work began on this production trying to appeal to the Government requirements of a Wartime film. It has since been remade five times, and Japanese censors cut 17 minutes from it that has never been recovered.

Based on the life of Shiro Saigo (Who one of the earliest disciples of Judo). Sanshiro is a hot headed young man, who travels to the city in order to learn Jujitsu, only to discover a new form of self defence: Judo. Among the path there is love and rivals that would make your typical high school teen movie blush.

Though there is nothing wrong with the movie, I personally wouldn't rush yourself to see it. Whilst it has moments and methods Kurosawa would be particularly know for, it somewhat remains a relic given the censorship he faced from the times. One scene in particular that lasts when reminiscing is our hero chucking himself into a lake in order to prove himself. But I would only recommend this film to certain enthusiasts of Mr. Kurosawa's work, and even then I would rather sit you through one of his more famed masterpieces. If you really want to see Kurosawa put through obscure limitations then check out "Drunken Angel" (1948), where he managed to cleverly work around some U.S Government censorship.

Final Verdict: A harmless story that proved popular among audiences enough for a sequel. Big things have small beginnings. 7/10.
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Off to a Great Start
Hitchcoc19 March 2015
We get to see what Akira Kurosawa could do with editing and with the framing of a camera. This story is fairly simple and yet presented with the all the Japanese ethos that we come to expect later. It occurred to me as I watched this that it was made while the Japanese were part of the Axis, having bombed Pearl Harbor just a couple years before. It involves the story of an arrogant young man who wants to be taught by a Judo master, but is so full of himself that he is unwilling to put in the effort or follow the instructions. He ends up in a pond where he spends the entire night in the swampy water until he makes up his mind to be a part of the master's school. Once he does this, he kills a man who challenges him and he becomes a legend. This brings out people who want to knock the pegs out from under him. Of course, there is one really bad guy, who is determined to fight him to the death. This is a bit fragmented since much of it was lost, but it holds together pretty well.
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Well made if rather basic
williampsamuel15 January 2015
Akira Kurosawa is widely known as one of the twentieth century's greatest directors, responsible for masterpieces like Rashoman, Ikiru, and The Seven Samurai. But every director must begin somewhere. John Ford got his start on B-westerns. Steven Spielberg began with Duel, the story of a man being chased down a desolate stretch of highway by a homicidal big-rig trucker. And Kurosawa started with that most Asian of genre films, the martial arts movie.

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.
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Notable debut by the master of craft
patryk-czekaj27 December 2012
Though the story presented in Sugata Sanshiro might not be the most appealing one, it's still a considerably enjoyable tale about the beginnings of Judo and its most prominent representative, the titular Sugata (played by Susumu Fujita, in a role that earned him a notable spot in the Japanese cinematic history). It's a simple and modest, but a truly elaborate and serious tale of one man's difficult journey to martial arts stardom. In order to find peace in life and achieve perfection in the craft that he's been practicing for some time, Sanshiro needs to come to terms with his own emotions and find a right path, which might eventually lead him to the desired golden mean.

Based on a best-selling novel, Sugata Sanshiro established the reputation of Kurosawa, and made him a prominent figure in the filmmaking business. Though it's far from being a genuine masterpiece, the film still shows the director's steady hand and is the admirable proof of his awe-inspiring versatility.

To become the master of martial arts is an uneasy task, and Sanshiro learns the lesson in the first minutes of the picture. Trying to join a clan of Jujitsu fanatics, he quickly realizes that they're just a bunch of up to no good coxcombs. Seeing how easily Yano (Denjirô Ôkôchi), the originator and master of Judo, defeated the group, Sanshiro decides to become his student. To become a proficient Judo technician the young, strong-willed, yet somehow reckless Sugata must overcome many of his weaknesses and find out the meaning of a warrior's way, thus learning the true meaning of life. The student, struggling to accustom himself to the situation, is constantly tested by his master, in many more or less laborious ways. And when the time comes, Sanshiro is finally able to take part in tournaments, in order to prove his indisputable technique and unrestrained power. On his way Sanshiro meets a mysterious, elegant, devilish man by the name of Hagaki (Ryûnosuke Tsukigata), who's like a shadow that's been following Sugata everywhere that he goes. Ironically so, the man - with his familiar look and specifically evil attitude - comes as a typical dark character, taken straight out of a superhero movie. In the film's most climatic and disquieting sequence, the two rivals participate in a duel that will determine who's the strongest living martial artist.

For all the lovers of Japanese culture, and for all the adepts of Asian martial arts, Sugata Sanshiro will definitely be a worthy film experience. For the rest it might be an insightful, valuable, and well-crafted period drama that's not only full of perfectly choreographed action scenes, but also full of humane qualities that prove to have an authentic meaning even in the modern times.
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Quite good! For a first work
maximkong18 November 2012
This is understandably one of his first works, the movie is a little unrefined and raw. But it is quite good nonetheless.

Although there is a certain cliché and lack of depth in the plot (typical-i-am-destined-to-fight kind of plot), many things are already outstanding in this first piece of work by the legendary Kurosawa. The camera angles, the style, and the small moments, like the shy behaviour in those scenes prelude to romantic endeavours, are some of the things people will remember about this film.

At least people will also remember that this was one of the films that elevated Kurosawa to be a top-notch director in the later part of this career
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