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September 17, 2009
Sanshiro Sugata (1943)
In the Kurosawa class I'm auditing, the professor seems very relaxed. It's interesting being in less of an "academic" class for once, where we mostly just watch movies, and we're let go a half hour to an hour early. It's a bit surreal for me. The professor started us off by watching Kurosawa's directorial debut, which is Sanshiro Sugata. I'm glad I signed up for this class, because we're getting to see some movies that aren't available on Netflix. At the same time, the print and subtitles for the movie are so terrible that it can be a frustrating experience to wade through the movie. Another hindrance is that the entire original film is not in tact, and there are portions of the movie where missing film is substituted for by titles that tell us what happened in the scenes we missed. Pretty crazy, but I am glad I got to see what I did.
The movie stars Susumu Fujita as Sanshiro Sugata, or Chee, who is introduced to the art of judo at the beginning of the movie and seeks to learn it for himself. He starts off young and prideful, and doesn't understand the art and the importance of his character as much as he understands the moves. When his master doesn't believe in him, he has a significant realization of purpose and changes his ways. There's also a pretty girl and an evil villain in an awesome suit.
With all of the sloppy subtitles, it was sometimes difficult to follow who was who because I was spending most of my time translating the Japanese English into English so I could understand what was going on. I got a little confused about some of the supporting characters, but thankfully the text for the class set me straight, as well as highlighted some of the important aspects of the movie.
I really enjoyed seeing that, even as he first began, Kurasawa had a definitely different way of approaching the visual aspect of his movies. There were some great moments, including some emotional closeups, a battle on a hill in the middle of a windstorm, and a montage of Chee and the pretty girl meeting each other on the stairs several times. There's also a great daydream moment where, before a fight, a pattern Chee sees reminds him of the pattern on his girl's dress. I also liked Kurosawa's time transitions, like showing what happened to some sandals that were left on the street as time progressed and a single shot of a house as the outside light grew dim while light went on in the house.
I think, were it to receive some proper restoration, this could be a classic that more people could enjoy. It wasn't until I read the book that I totally followed some of the themes that were emphasized because I wasn't following the translation. I appreciated the fact that Chee learned he would never be complete - that he would always have room to grow in one way or another, and that he understood the true art of what he practiced.
A mostly great start to an interesting class!