SUGATA SANSHIRO (director/writer: Akira Kurosawa; screenwriter: from the novel by Tsuneo Tomita; cinematographer: Akira Mimura; editors: Akira Kurosawa/Toshio Goto; music: Seiichi Suzuki; cast: Susumu Fujita (Sugata Sanshiro), Denjirô Ôkôchi (Yano), Yukiko Todoroki (Sayo Murai), Takashi Shimura (Hansuke Murai, Sayo's father), Ryunosuke Tsukigata (Gennosuke Higaki), Sugisaku Aoyama (Tsunetami Iimura), Ichirô Sugai (Police Chief Mishima); Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Keiji Matsuzaki; Janus Films; 1943-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)

"A conventional film."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Akira Kurosawa's ("Drunken Angel "/"Drunken Angel") first feature was a black-and-white film about the beginnings of judo and is shot for Toho studio during the war. It's based on the martial arts novel by Tsuneo Tomita; it's set during the late 19th century in Japan.

Sanshiro Sugata (Susumu Fujita) is a hotheaded country boy who comes to the city to study martial arts and ends up as an apprentice to master teacher Yano (Denjirô Ôkôchi), who runs a rival jujitsu school from the one he wanted to go to but changed his mind when he saw Yano dispatch the entire school into the water when they tried to sneak attack him by a bridge. Yano teaches the raw youth not only the techniques, but delves into spiritual matters and the Zen influence of learning "satori" (how to be at one with nature). When Sugata gets into a street brawl, Yano is displeased with his pupil's immaturity and says he can die. Sugata, filled with pride, jumps into the pond and is prepared to die, until he finally comes out the next morning when he achieves satori after seeing a flower. 

At a match sponsored by the police chief (who is looking to make judo part of the police program), Sugata throws his opponent Momma across the ring and kills him. The film's designated villain, the derby wearing and mustached Higaki (Ryunosuke Tsukigata), wants a crack at Sugata, but the attractive Sayo Murai (Yukiko Todoroki) says her father Hansuke Murai (Takashi Shimura) will win in their upcoming match and holds him off. Showing misplaced family loyalty Sayo is apprehended by Yano's followers before she can attack Sugata with a knife; afterwards she starts to pray. Sugata finally meets Sayo, and they hit it off. In the demonstration match Sugata easily defeats Sayo's father, and visits him recovering from his wounds. It finally leads to Higaki challenging Sugata, and they fight at midnight in the hillside with Sugata overcoming his foe. After the fight Higaki's hatred for Sugata subsides. Yano is pleased with the new maturity of his pupil; and, to top things off, Sayo has her father's approval to see Sugata off as he takes the train for another match, and he tells her he'll be back soon. 

The coming-of-age story didn't do much for me. It was a conventional film that always felt like something was missing, as the film suffers from poor pacing and huge gaps in its story line that keep things unnecessarily jumbled; also, the romantic tale was so bland that the lovers might just as well have been planning to meet for a chess game at the end rather than to resume their intended romance. 

REVIEWED ON 7/24/2006        GRADE: C

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"