Now we’re talking old skool! This isn’t just a martial arts movie from the good old days but is a historic movie which marks the directorial debut of the legendary Akira Kurosawa. It’s a film from 1943 called Sugata Sanshiro.
This film follows a powerful Judo practitioner as he takes on opponents from Jiu Jitsu schools as a way of proving the worth of Judo.
What’s the difference? Jiu Jitsu is where it all began as a method for the Samurai to defend themselves. It included all forms of unarmed combat whereas Judo is more focused on the wrestling/throw side of things and can be viewed as more of a sport.
So naturally when Jiu Jitsu clans get the idea that a Judo teacher may be chosen to teach the Police force how to fight, they get pretty pissy and try to prove them selves against the Judo school.
This is where a young man named Sugata Sanshiro comes in. Having witnessed the power of his Judo instructor as he defeated many Jiu Jitsu fighters some years ago, Sanshiro is chosen to fight against these challengers and prove Judo’s worth.
Ultimately though, this movie is actually more about the character of Sanshiro. He starts off as a bit of troublemaker, getting himself constantly into legit fights. But we get to see his character mature as the movie plays out. As far as the classics go, this movie fits right in. Never have they been purely about the fun, fighting aspect but more about the characters themselves.
Sanshiro learns a lot about himself and slowly turns from eager to reluctant when it comes to fighting. It’s a well told story but I couldn’t get into to it too much. I appreciate the classics but some I just can’t get into personally.
In saying that, fans of the classics should definitely check out this movie as it is well done, especially considering it was made in the early 40’s! Fans of the newer adrenaline based martial arts film may not enjoy it so much as this movie is more about character than action.
Even the action within the film is very stiff and shows little. A lot of cut aways and implied Judo/Jiu Jistu technique is portrayed whilst martial arts themes are more present. Perhaps the most entertaining fight is toward the beginning, as Sanshiro’s teacher faces a group of Jiu Jitsu fighters.
Overall it is a cinema classic and I can’t say anything bad about it but instead recommend that it be watched by fans of the classics. This movie isn’t for all martial arts fans but I am peronally glad I got to see it 🙂
On DVD –
Region 1 (US & Canada)
Eclipse Series 23: Akira Kurosawa Collection)