Film reviews from across the cinematic landscape. Written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.
In 1945, Akira Kurosawa released Sanshiro Sugata Part II, based on the novel of the same name by Tsuneo Tomita. Starring Denijiro Okochi, Susumu Fujita, Ryunosuke Tsukigata, Akitake Kono, Yukiko Todoroki, Soji Kiyokawa, Masayuki Mori, Seiji Miyaguchi, Ko Ishda, Kazu Hikari, Kokuten Kodo, and Ichiro Sugai, the film had an unknown gross and is considered a propaganda film.
Sanshiro Sugata continues his quest to become a judo master and has become very well known among Japan’s martial arts practitioners. Eventually, he is approached to demonstrate his skill in a boxing match between an American but does not immediately take the offer. In the meantime, the brothers of Gennosuke Higaki have tracked Sanshiro down to challenge him to a fight. Sanshiro must then break the letter of his dojo’s rules in order to properly adhere to their spirit.
Almost as good as the first film, Sanshiro Sugata Part II is a good film that gives the feel of an honest sequel. In the first film, he’s yearning to become a part of a judo dojo and starts on his quest to be a judo master. While he’s going about a continuation of that quest here, the film presents a Sanshiro that also continues to be infamous among parts of the martial arts community and greatly admired in others. There’s also how the stakes are successfully and properly raised here. Sanshiro not only has to fight Gennosuke’s brothers, who want to kill him for how Gennosuke ended up, but he also must make a choice whether or not to fight the American boxer and defend the honor of Japan’s martial arts. It’s a choice he struggles against greatly. Presenting both conflicts very well, the film succeeds purely as a sequel in this regard.
The film also succeeds as a propaganda piece in how it depicts Americans and their fascination with the sport of boxing. The film shows the Americans as having a rabid and rowdy enjoyment of it, with Sanshiro observing that they don’t have an appreciation for the subtleties of Japanese martial arts and would rather be loud and boisterous while egging their champion on to brazenly beat up his opponent in the most obvious way. Compare this to what the martial artists of the film believe about their respective arts, namely that they are a part of the spirit of Japan. It’s good propaganda in its attempt to dehumanize the Americans by showing that they have no finesse and lack the capability to understand the complexities of something as complicated as martial arts. What’s more is that in taking part in the fight with the boxer, Sanshiro breaks his dojo’s rule of participating in an entertainment event. However, he merely breaks the letter of the rule and upholds the spirit as the rule is there to honor the sacredness and weightiness surrounding Sanshiro’s dojo and its art of judo. With Sanshiro taking part in the fight, he not only defends the sacredness of judo, but all of Japan’s martial arts.
Yet the film is more than a propaganda piece as the fight with the American boxer is a subplot that intersects the main conflict with Gennosuke’s brothers. The two of are very interesting characters, with one of them being practically insane. The two of them go after the dojo’s students in order to draw Sanshiro out and he eventually gives in to fight them. As with the fight against the boxer, Sanshiro breaks the letter of his dojo’s rule of participating in an unsanctioned fight in order to uphold the rule’s spirit. An unsanctioned fight would tarnish the dojo’s reputation, but the two brothers are already doing that with their targeting of its students. With Sanshiro taking part in a fight against them, he is defending the honor of his dojo and her students.
The film isn’t perfect though and it suffers quite a bit of problems with its editing. Though the film isn’t edited terribly, there are portions where the action makes a considerable jump and brings the viewer out of the action. Take the time when Sanshiro is making his initial observations about the Americans and their boxing, watching a jiu-jitsu fighter take the boxer on. There is a point when the fighter is walking towards the ring and then the film jumps to him climbing in. There’s quite a few moments like that in the film where someone is walking and then jumps to another spot mid-stride. These small cuts may be quite noticeable, but the film is so interesting that the viewer is pulled back in almost immediately.
The fact that it was put out in 1945 may also be a factor, with Kurosawa possibly being so eager to get the film out to bolster the war effort that pushing out a film with edits like those may have been a necessary sacrifice. After all, it’s not a bad film by any means.
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