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Film / Sanshiro Sugata

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Sanshiro Sugata is a 1943 film from Japan directed by Akira Kurosawa.

The setting is 1880s Japan. Sanshiro Sugata arrives in an unnamed city looking to study at a school of jujitsu. He finds such a school, and goes with its members when they leave to pick a fight with Yano, a local master of the jujitsu spinoff of Judo. When Yano proceeds to beat the bejesus out of each one of his rivals in turn, Sugata sees the light and joins Yano's judo school.

Something goes wrong, however, as a Time-Passes Montage reveals Sugata to have become a wild youth getting into fights in town. He returns to Yano's school, and after a test of endurance and a moment of clarity, he is re-admitted. This time, he becomes a real judo master. Challenges still await, however, in the person of Murai, a local jujitsu master who wants to fight Sugata; Murai's daughter Sayo, who falls in love with Sugata without knowing who he is; and Hideki, a scowling man who wants to destroy Sugata and take his place as judo champion.

Sanshiro Sugata was the debut feature for Kurosawa, who had previously worked as an assistant director and script doctor. It soon received a sequel, Sanshiro Sugata Part II.

This was the first Kurosawa film for Takashi Shimura, who plays Murai; he spent the rest of his life, until Kagemusha in 1980 the year before his death, appearing in Kurosawa movies.


  • Casualty in the Ring: Sugata's fight with Momma (that's a Japanese proper name, an alternate spelling for Monma, not "momma") leads to Momma getting killed, and Sugata having to wrestle with his conscience for a while.
  • Deleted Scene: In-Universe, Discussed Trope. The existing print is a 1952 re-issue that opens with a message from Toho, stating that government censors stripped 1,845 feet (17 minutes) from the movie in 1943 and Toho was unable to recover the footage.
  • Duel to the Death: Higaki, consumed with jealousy for Sugata, eventually demands one of these. Subverted in that Sugata knocks him out but doesn't kill him. Sugata realizes how dumb the whole affair is:
    Sugata: We're young and stupid.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Higaki the bad guy ostentatiously pulls a cigarette out of a Western-style cigarette case and lights up while demanding to see Yano. He's the only person in the movie who smokes cigarettes in the Western manner.
  • Hey, You!: Sugata's people at the fight with Murai object when the judge doesn't address Sugata with the same honorific that he does with Murai. This is Truth in Television, as jujutsuka were often intentionally disrespecteful to judoka during their historical rivalry.
  • Impairment Shot: Murai's dizziness after getting flung to the mat by Sugata is shown by the camera going out of focus.
  • Kubrick Stare: Momma's daughter to Sugata, after watching her father's death in a judo fight with Sugata. Soon after she tries to kill him. She fails, but Sugata is rattled.
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: Higaki, the villain and enemy of Sugata, is always dressed in a fancy suit. Notably, it's a fancy Western suit, complete with bowler hat, a subtle bit of negative characterization as Japan was fighting the Allies in World War II.
  • Meet Cute: Sayo and Sugata, when she breaks her wooden sandal on a flight of stairs and he fixes it for her.
  • Mook Chivalry: Actually justified in this instance, as the various students of the jujitsu school want to prove that their art is superior to Yano's judo. They each fail in turn, dismally.
  • Na├»ve Newcomer: Sugata's naïveté allows the others to explain to him that judo is a new offshoot of jujitsu.
  • No Historical Figures Were Harmed: Sanshiro Sugata was inspired by real life judoka Shiro Saigo. Accordingly, Shogoro Yano from the Shudokan school is a stand-in for judo founder Jigoro Kano from the Kodokan, while Hansuke Murai and Gennosuke Higaki are the same for historical jujutusu masters Hansuke Nakamura and Mataemon Tanabe. Ironically, in real life Saigo and Tanabe challenged each other, but never actually fought.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: A train off to Yokohama, bearing Sugata off to new adventures, which were shown in the sequel.
  • Old Master: Murai, the old jujitsu master, who quits drinking and gets himself in shape to challenge Sugata, and gets his butt kicked anyway.
  • Opposing Sports Team: It isn't inherently evil for Higaki to want to be the champion, so to make him evil, the movie makes him an arrogant, sneering Man of Wealth and Taste while having him finally demand a Duel to the Death.
  • Punch! Punch! Punch! Uh Oh...: Murai's bout with Sugata opens with Murai chucking Sugata across the mat. Sugata lands on his feet. Then Murai flips Sugata over his shoulder across the mat. Sugata lands on his feet again. This leads to an obvious Oh, Crap! look on Murai's face as he realizes he is outmatched. The rest of the bout goes very badly for him.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The events leading to Sugata's departure from Yano's school are not shown, but when he returns Yano gives him this, saying Sugata doesn't "understand humanity" and "You live without reason or purpose."
  • The Rival: Higaki, who seethes with jealousy towards Sugata, and eventually challenges him to a fight to the death.
  • Sequel Hook: Ends with Sugata on a train to Yokohama, some more fighting to do. Sure enough, Kurosawa's third feature was a sequel to this movie.
  • Snow Means Love: It starts snowing as Sugata and Sayo have their first conversation, and as they're obviously falling for each other already.
  • Spit Take: From one of the students at Momma's school when Sugata says he doesn't know the difference between jujitsu and judo.
  • Time-Passes Montage: Sugata shucks off his wooden sandals before towing away Yano's rickshaw. We then see an abandoned sandal in the dust, then getting rained on, then getting toyed with by a puppy, then getting snowed on, then floating down a river. Sugata in the meantime has joined and then dropped out of Yano's school.
  • Yamato Nadeshiko: Sayo, the loyal and dutiful daughter, who prays to the gods in a "completely selfless" manner.