Here is my take (blather) on this if anyone is interested. Does anyone have a link or scan of the Toho DVD booklet?
Sanshiro Sugata Part II (1945: Akira Kurosawa)
(some spoilers below)
"It seems the entertainment sections of Japan's film-production companies haven't heard the proverb about the fish under the willow tree that hangs over the stream -- the fact that you hooked one there once doesn't mean you always will." -- Akira Kurosawa, Something of an Autobiography
Toho wanted him to make this sequel to the highly successful original. Kurosawa was really not that interested in it and was most likely feted by the lack of resources as well. Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto in Kurosawa: Film Studies in Japanese Cinema
writes that the script is full of details that were not shown in the finished product. When it was released on May 3, 1945 towards the end of WWII it had the additional constraint of a lack of theaters due to bombings.
This is normally considered Kurosawa's worst film. While I have one more full length film to watch of his, The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail
and the co-directed Those Who Make Tomorrow
(is this even available?), I probably agree that this movie, his third fully directed film, is close to his worst (along with some segments of Dreams
and his previous film The Most Beautiful
), but it is still not a bad film. In fact there are several scenes that are sublime; however it is mixed with a curious lethargy in cinematography and a lackadaisical characterization that is not synonymous with the vast majority of Kurosawa's oeuvre. Out of all his directed films it has the least material written about it from film historians and critics, but it still serves as a prognosticator of later themes and styles of Kurosawa and should be discussed more than it has.
The film stars off in 1887 five (or close to) years after the original. Sanshiro (Susumu Fujita) protects a rickshaw boy, who is being beaten by an American sailor who uses a pugilist style to pummel the poor kid, in a scene somewhat similar to what Sanshiro had witnessed his future master Shogoro Yano (Denjiro Ookouchi) do in the first film. Later the best American boxer wants to square off against Sanshiro, but will settle for an aged and hungry Jujitsu fighter. He destroys this fighter much to the horror of Sanshiro who wants to fight him, but is restrained by the three main rules of his dojo: no fighting for entertainment, no fighting without master's permission and no eating or drinking in the dojo (I would have trouble with the eating part). This leads to one of the best and most written about scenes in the film. Because of this dilemma Sugata breaks the drinking rule in the dojo, but when Shogoro comes in he does not directly scold him. He takes the sake
bottle and shows a variety of foot sweep techniques indirectly showing Sugata his breech of conduct.
Meanwhile two brothers of the previously defeated Gennosuke Higaki (Ryunosuke Tsukigata) have come to take revenge with their vicious karate skills and lack of manner. Teshin Higaki (also played by Ryunosuke Tsukigata) is just mean while the other brother Genzaburo Higaki (Akitake Kôno) suffers from seizures and insanity. Kurosawa incorporated Noh in this film by having Genzaburo wear long hair, use Noh-style walking and carry a bamboo branch which symbolizes a mad woman. Actually when I first saw Genzaburo I thought the character was a woman. But as in the first film and in the tradition of martial art films you know there is going to be a fight towards the end. Unfortunately I was a bit annoyed by the final fight between Teshin and Sanshiro. Teshin kiais
loudly at every possible moment and it does not sound like a manly scream, but one that resembles the strangling of a small animal. During the final fight scene the knife hand from Teshin that cuts the tree is quite cool (and the oldest film I have seen it done in). But I was quite annoyed at the risk that Sanshiro takes at the very end. I cannot imagine him being that stupid.
While the film suffers as a cohesive whole there are many excellent parts to it. These include such scenes as when during the Sanshiro and Lister fight there was this multi-shot mise en scène where each new shot held an audience freeze frame without actually freezing the shot forcing the actors to hold themselves. Gus Van Sant would do a similar type shot for a love scene in My Own Private Idaho
(1991; I doubt he was inspired by this though) and so would the end of each episode of Police Squad!
. In fact the Eisenstein montage editing of the audience was more inspired that the fight scenes themselves. These were shown, of course, to show the crass bloodthirsty American/European audience whose lack of understanding true martial arts and are only after "entertainment." Another excellent scene analogous to the geta
(wooden clog) transition scenes (answering a question I had on my essay of Sanshiro Sugata) from the first film is the transition of the rickshaw boy who becomes a seasoned judoka by showing his gi
(uniform) become more and more dirty and his countenance become more confident.
Boxing is criticized as a brutal non-martial art. The "boxers" in this film are quite atrocious in their style and are also not historically accurate to a boxer from the late 19th century either ((the wrong American flags were used as well; should have had 38 stars instead of having 35 stars, but of course it could be considered that they did not update the doors). Of course, boxing was just used as a symbol of the American psyche. However, what I found really interesting was that the practitioners of Karate were also shown as overly violent, lacking of respect, and full of revenge (of course any Judo throws like the yama arashi
are perfectly all right to use). It is poignant that their redemption could be considered propagandistic, all banded together against the western enemy, but it really does not feel that simplistic. Also, while the use of western ware was also to symbolize the decadent characters and even mentioned in the film, Gennosuke Higaki was still wearing foppish European attire, yet had converted to a more amiable (and censor friendly) character. It is possible to overanalyze these contexts because of the restrictions that Kurosawa went through during the end of the war as well as his general apathy to directing this sequel.
As with many sequels this film cannot exist on its own and make any sense. Too many plot threads from the first are not restated here so if you are interested in watching this, make sure you see the first before this. If you are a fan of Kurosawa and do not mind watching one of his lesser films that you can do worse then this but do not expect a Seven Samurai
. I am fascinated by propaganda films, especially during WWII, so if you are interested in that as well you might glean more from this movie.
Notes: I wondered if the European actors were possibly POWs, but an entry on IMDB by jadow81 states that the Toho DVD booklet states that they legal residents. If anyone has access to this booklet please post or send me a link to it. On a future viewing I want to pay attention to the use of dissolves and wipes. I have read (but did not pay attention the previous viewing) that atypical to a lot of Kurosawa films that wipes were non-existent on this.
The Films of Akira Kurosawa
3rd Edition (1996/1998) by Donald Richie
Something of an Autobiography
(1982/1983) by Akira Kurosawa
Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema
(2000/2005) by Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto
Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa by Stephen Prince
Sanshiro Sugata Part Two: Mining the shallows
Kurosawa #1: Sugata Sanshiro II (Japan, 1945) by Roy Stafford
IMDb Board: Sanshiro Sugata Part Two (1945)