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Japan 1943
Directed by
Akira Kurosawa
79 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Sanshiro Sugata

Kurosawa's directorial debut based on the novel of the same name by Tsuneo Tomita follows the story of Sanshiro, a young disciple of a new form of self-defence, Judo, that is overtaking Ju-Jitsu as Japan's premier martial art in the 1880s.

The film has only survived in a 1952 re-release minus some 17 minutes of its original running time which was cut by the war-time censors and which was apparently lost during the war. It is as a result somewhat difficult to follow particularly as it is also in quite poor condition. As it stands, it will be principally of interest to Kurosawa fans and scholars but it is nevertheless a film with charm and moments of beauty that are recognizably Kurosawa, notably the encounters between Sanshiro and Sayo Murai, the daughter of Ju-Jitsu master, Hansuke Murai (played by Takashi Shimura who would remain with the director for most of his career), and the climactic battle between Sanshiro and Gennosuke Higaki, his arch Ju-Jitsu rival.

The film was a commercial success and was followed two years later by a sequel Sanshiro Sugata II (82m) which essentially remakes the first film but instead pits Sanshiro against a couple of Karate experts, brothers to the now dying Higaki. Perhaps to appeal to the censors the film starts with an uncharacteristic scene that matches the earlier film, with this time an American sailor bullying a rickshaw driver.

DVD Extras:: Although both films are included in the DVD they are in fairly poor condition with particularly noisy soundtracks but they are nevertheless well worth watching and Kurosawa fans will not be disappointed as the original comes with some deleted scenes, the sequel has a stills gallery

Available from: Madman




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