Sanshiro Sugata is the story of a man who, through lessons taught to him by a wise martial arts master, learns important lessons in life.
I found this film something of an oddity where it comes to Akira Kurosawa’s work; it was his first film, and I couldn’t help but think he had limited creative control over the project. The characters are not particularly well fleshed out, Chee’s miraculous catharsis from rabble-rousing brawler to enlightened martial artist meant little as you never really got to know him in the first place. His later relationships are cursory at best, only the warmth and mutual respect between he and defeated opponent Takashi Shimura really held any resonance. The villain of the piece is also virtually a cartoon character – Dick Dastardly to be precise! – who may as well have twirled his moustache and gone “Muah-hah-hah-haaaaah!!” every time he appeared and the story ends very abruptly. The visuals however are pure Kurosawa with some beautifully framed shots of great locations and lovely costumes. The fight scenes are also very well done, preferring to stick to a very realist approach rather than the usual over the top chop socky action of the likes of Jackie Chan; plus the tournament based format is hugely influential, the obvious starting point for everything from The Karate Kid to Fearless.
Hardly the best example of his work, but worth it for the visuals alone.