Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
Original title: Sugata Sanshiro
Japan, 1943. Toho Company, Toho Film (Eiga) Co. Ltd.. creenplay by Akira Kurosawa, based on the novel by Tsuneo Tomita. Cinematography by Akira Mimura. Produced by Keiji Matsuzaki. Music by Seeichi Suzuki. Production Design by Masao Tozuka. Film Editing by Toshio Goto, Akira Kurosawa.
Akira Kurosawa’s first film as sole director is a minor classic samurai adventure that chronicles the clash among the martial arts. The title character seeks to update his jujitsu masters in the burgeoning art of judo, but the old guard is resisting. Naturally, it’s all worked out in the fighting ring, but there is also the side story of a beautiful lady love whom Sugata falls in love with, who just happens to be the daughter of the jujitsu master he has been assigned to fight. The story is the basic template for millions of films that would follow, but what makes this one worth seeing is the already obvious evidence that Kurosawa was a deeply emotional, resonant filmmaker: lots of experimentation with light and sound despite the primitive possibilities in pre-war Japan, an emphasis on the main character’s spiritual transformation, and examination of the moral repercussions for all actions taken. The film was heavily censored for its pro-western storytelling upon first release and, sadly, the footage removed has never been found, so it is overall choppy and somewhat challenging to follow in detail (despite inter-titles that describe the missing scenes), but it is definitely good.