Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Judo Saga

Year:  1943
Director:  Akira Kurosawa
Screenplay:  Akira Kurosawa and Tomita Tsuneo, based on the novel Sanshiro Sugata by Tomita Tsuneo
Starring:  Denjiro Okochi,  Susumu Fujita, Yukiko Todoroki, Takashi Shimura
Running Time:  79 minutes (cut from 97 minutes)
Genre:  Martial arts, period drama,

This film is probably most notable as being the directorial debut of legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa.  Set in 1882, the film tells the story of headstrong, young Sanshiro Sugata (Fujita) who heads out to study martial arts but finds himself caught between two rival schools, one teaching the traditional jujitsu and the other teaching the more modern judo.

The film is stylish and well made, if slow-moving.  It features many themes and techniques that would recur time and again over Kurosawa's career, such as the relationship between pupil and master, and between tradition and modernism, and techniques such as wipes, changing camera speeds and the use of weather patterns to reveal character moods.  It was a huge success in it's day and spawned a sequel, also directed by Kurosawa, which was released in 1945.  The film has been remade five times.  It was cut by seventeen minutes by the Japanese censors for "failing to comply with the Government's wartime entertainment policies".  The missing footage has never been recovered.

The film is not among Kurosawa's best, but it still has much to recommend it.  Certainly his mastery of cinema was evident right from the start.

Sanshiro Sugata (Susumu Fujita) is holding on in Judo Saga  

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