Release date: March 25, 1943
Based on: Sanshiro Sugata (1942 novel by Tomita Tsuneo)
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
Starring: Denjiro Okochi, Susumu Fujita, Yukiko Todoroki, Takashi Shimura
Box office: n/a
As a young man, Sugata learns the nuances and meaning of judo.
Sanshiro Sugata was Kurosawa’s first film, one which would begin what has become a long-lasting and influential legacy. Made as he was beginning to find himself as a director, this is a pretty good film. It contains an interesting story, following an impulsive young man on a journey of knowledge and personal growth. While there is a portion missing, the story is still told well and does not suffer. Rather, it captures the essences of every aspect within the film from Sugata’s character development to his relationship with other characters. Additionally, the film employs an interesting method of showing the viewer where Sugata is by way of song.
The film’s technical aspects are also done well, especially considering Kurosawa was still trying to figure out what does and doesn’t work. Not only does it make use of what would become his signature style with the wiping and fading transitions, but he makes use of weather as symbolism in a fascinating way to capture the overall mood and tone. The most notable instance of this comes in the latter half of the film when the wind itself becomes its own character and incessantly howls as if it is trying to put an end to what is happening.
Further, the film has a romantic aspect that does not feel tacked on for no reason. Rather, it comes off as the natural progression of a relationship between two characters, in spite of the missing portions. Moreover, it’s not a romance with a climax as the two characters continue to grow on each other throughout the entire length of the film. It’s the source of some good internal conflict, too, giving more weight to how Sanshiro grows as a person.
It may not be the best film ever made, nor even Kurosawa’s best, but this is definitely one to check out.