Sanshiro Sugata Part 2 (1945) November 23, 2010Posted by Cal in : Action, 1940s films, Jidaigeki , trackback
Director: Akira Kurosawa Starring: Susumu Fujita; Denjiro Ookouchi; Ryunosuke Tsukigata; Akitake Kono Territory: Japan
In his autobiography, Kurosawa said of sequels that, like the Japanese proverb about the fish under the willow tree that hangs over the stream, just because you’ve hooked one there once doesn’t mean you always will. Which is a beautiful way of saying that follow-ups just aren’t as good as the originals. That, coupled with the fact that the director himself disliked the end result made me a little apprehensive about watching it.
The good news is that Sanshiro Sugata Part 2 is not terrible. However, it is fervently anti-British-American. Made at the very end of the Pacific War, it appears Kurosawa decided to make some rather blatant racial statements with this film. The western characters are boorish, arrogant and cruel, while the Japanese are cultured, humble and decent. Sugata encounters a boxing match and is appalled at the barbarity and decadence of the sport (and its followers) in relation to the beauty and dignity of his beloved judo.
After demonising western pugilistic culture, Kurosawa then turns to karate as Higaki’s brothers vow to take revenge for his defeat in the first film. The brothers, one of which is quite mad, are karate practitioners and challenge Sanshiro to a duel against Higaki’s wishes. However, rather than taking a moralising stance on the two disciplines, the message here seems to be that both arts can co-exist, and presumably by extension, all Japanese martial arts should unite against the inferior western culture.
Political and racial issues aside, Sanshiro Sugata Part 2 is fun if somewhat superficial. There are moments where the viewer is treated to flashes of inspiration in Kurosawa’s camerawork and dramatic settings, but also a vague but undiminishing feeling that his heart just wasn’t in it. His view was that the tale of Sanshiro had already been told, and while it’s true that seeing him well on the road to being a master of the arts is not as interesting as when he found enlightenment by watching a lotus flower blossom while standing in a pond overnight, the climax on a snowy hilltop is fairly gripping. By no means one of the best examples of Kurosawa’s art, it is a testimony to his skill that even when firing on one or two cylinders, his work can be watchable and diverting.