The sequel to Kurosawa’s saga of judo in early Meiji times

In 1945, as Japan was being carpetbombed with incendiary bombs and then nuclear-bombed, screenwriter-turned movie director Kurosawa Akira directed “Zoku Sugata Sanshiro,” a sequel to his 1942 judo hit “Sugata Sanshiro” (SS, the name of the rickshaw driver turned judo master), about which he said: “This film did not interest me in the slightest. I had already done it once. This was just warmed over.” The print in the Criterion Eclipse early Kurosawa set and on its streaming channel Hulu was in worse shape even that of SS, though not missing footage. I liked the final fight in a snowy pass, though that was followed by a silly ending in which the brothers of Higaki, who had fought a battle to the death at the end of SS but is still alive if weakened and transformed in the sequel, as their brother was at the end of the first movie. (Tsukigata Ryuosuke plays both the frail survivor of what he set up as a fight to the death in the first movie and as his epileptic, wild-haired younger brother in the sequel.)

Sanshiro represented judo in combat with jujitsu in the first movie. In the second he represents it against first American boxing and then against some totally unspiritual karate (the Higaki brothers). His spiritual crisis in the second movie comes from realizing that his defeat of jujitsu practitioners has destroyed their livelihood and ability to support their families. The priest at the judo academy sort of snaps him out of that. The priest sitting up with Sugata for all-night meditation also supplies some gentle humor. Sanshiro attempts to meditate, but falls asleep. When he wakes up, he is reassured by discovering that the priest, though still sitting in lotus position, has also fallen asleep.

The romance advances not at all. A fight at water’s edge seems a parody of Yano’s early in the first movie. The triumph of the short (though stocky) Sanshiro against the American boxing champion (and, earlier, an American sailor bullying a small richshaw driver) is pretty obviously propaganda encouraging the belief that spiritual Japanese marital art could/would triumph against materialist American power.

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I thought that Fujita Susuma, who was 31, was rather old to play a beginning pupil in the judo academy, and rather bland.

Fujita and Ôkôchi not only returned for the sequel, but appeared in The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail” (1945) and “No Regrets for Our Youth” (1946) under Kurosawa’s direction (Fujita also played a major role in “The Hidden Fortress” (1958).)

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

 

An English-subtitled DVD is part of the four-disc Criterion Eclipse set The First Films of Akira Kurosawa.

 

 

 

 

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