Release date: May 3, 1945
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
Starring: Susumu Fujita, Denjirō Ōkōchi, Kokuten Kōdō, Ryūnosuke Tsukigata
Box office: n/a
Sugata returns for a match against a Western opponent.
Almost as good as the first film, Sanshiro Sugata Part II evokes the feeling of an honest sequel, taking him from a man yearning to become part of a judo dojo and beginning a quest to become a judo master to someone well known among the martial arts community. It works well as a continuation, properly raising the stakes. Not only does he have to fight people who want to kill him due to events from the previous story, but he must also make a choice whether or not to participate in a fight to defend the honor of Japan’s martial arts, a choice the audience observes him struggling with. Both conflicts have interesting representations too.
It succeeds as a propaganda piece as well in its depiction of Westerners and their fascination with the sport of boxing, demonstrating them has having a rabid and rowdy enjoyment of it, along with Sugata observing they lack an appreciation for the subtleties of Japanese martial arts. Its attempts to dehumanize Westerners through showing they have no finesse and lack the capability to understand the complexities of martial arts are competently constructed. Further, Sugata’s opportunity to fight the Westerner provides an intriguing inner conflict, seeing him decide if he should break the letter of his dojo’s rules in order to uphold their spirit.
Yet, the film is more than propaganda. Portraying the Westerners and their attraction to boisterousness rather than sophistication is merely a subplot while Kurosawa gives his viewers a different main plot, throwing Sugata in the middle of a revenge plot where he must fight for his life. Though, this main story may give him an almost identical conflict, it’s excellently tied into the propaganda Kurosawa was looking to detail. Where Sugata finds himself in another moral quandary, determining if breaking the letter of a rule is worth it to preserve the rule’s spirit, it connects by using him as an example of a Japanese man able to contemplate such nuances as opposed to the Westerners unable to make such distinctions.
Despite it being mostly propaganda, it’s a skillfully made film, worth watching.