Monday, April 05, 2010

Movie of the Day: Sanshiro Sugata 2

Kurosawa has said: "This film did not interest me in the slightest. I had already done it once. This was just warmed-over." It is considerably worse than merely warmed-over. In it we have what the original Sugata might have been had an ordinary director done it.
From The Films of Akira Kurosawa(3rd edition) by Donald Richie

Now, it may be that this film was forced on Kurosawa, and that he wasn't incredibly interested in it, but Sanshiro Sugata 2 isn't quite deserving of the sentiments stated above. During his lengthy career, Kurosawa directed only two sequels; this and Sanjuro, the lesser-known(but possibly even more awesome) sequel to Yojimbo. While Sugata 2 isn't quite as essential as Sanjuro, and maybe not as good a film as it's predecessor, but it's unfair to discount it entirely for those reasons. So allow me to offer some minor dissent among the critical community.

The original Sanshiro Sugata, produced in 1943, had to adhere to strict postwar censorship which forbid the mention of anything Western. Sugata 2, on the other hand, is pure propaganda, and from the very first scene it's obvious that the film's stance on Westerners is decidedly negative. The film opens with Sugata rescuing a young rickshaw driver from being mercilessly beaten by an American sailor in only the first of many ugly caricatures of Westerners. There are two story lines in this film that run concurrently, although they never really connect in any way. The first is Sugata's moral dilemma as he struggles to show that Japanese martial arts are superior to Western boxing without breaking his dojo's rule about never fighting for pay or entertainment. The second is about Sugata's moral dilemma as he struggles to defend his honor against a pair of brothers(the brothers of the first film's villain, who is now infirm after his battle with Sugata) who have challenged him without breaking his dojo's rule about never entering into duels. Obviously it will become clear that neither of these dilemmas are problems after all. Both of these stories are fairly common to this type of film, and there's nothing new or fresh about them, but that doesn't mean the film containing them is not entertaining.

Though the film's story is generic, and the sentiment seems more dictated by propaganda than any artistic desire, the package is nevertheless pretty well put together. Kurosawa never seems visually bored, and continues with the same mature, confident style he'd shown off in the first film, and keeps things moving at a pretty brisk pace. There's even a scene where Sugata says goodbye to his beloved that edits out everything he says, so that we get the gist of the entire conversation through her questions and reactions to his answers. The fight scenes are typical Japanese showdowns, meaning they're long on shots of men circling each other, leading up to one or two quick blows, followed by either more circling, or an end to the match. None of them quite live up to the fight scenes in the original film, although the final snowbound duel has some good shots in it.

Sanshiro Sugata 2 was Kurosawa working basically as a director for hire, which means that yes, it isn't one of his greater films. In fact, I'd have to admit that it's probably only for people who are already fans. But you know what? Screw the haters, I still enjoyed myself through every minute of the film.

Rating: 3 out of 5

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