Akira Kurosawa returns to the martial arts stage with this sequel to his 1943 film with elements that can be said to be an influence on some of today’s martial arts films.
In 1887 Yokohama, a young rickshaw driver is assaulted by an American sailor. Coming to the rescue is legendary judoka Sanshiro Sugata. Since he has defeated his archrival two years ago, Sanshiro has been a popular name all over Japan. His actions towards the sailor have attracted the attention of the U.S. Embassy. The Embassy wishes to introduce Western boxing to Japan. Boxing champion William Lister wishes to compete in a fight against Sugata. Sugata, however, refuses, mainly due to the rules of the Shudokan. He is even more shocked to learn that jujitsu expert Kahei Sekine will fight Lister for both money and to bring the glory of jujitsu back.
Sekine’s action brings Sugata back to the Shudokan, where he meets his master Shogoro Yano. Sugata thinks he fights to bring the spirit of judo and realizes he crushes his opponents’ dreams. Yano, on the other hand, has different thoughts. He feels that fighting is not for seeing which style is better, but to ensure the survival of the Japanese martial arts.
However, as if the Western influence in Japan wasn’t bad enough for Sugata, things are about to get worse. At the Shudokan, two mysterious men appear. They turn to be Teshin and Genzaburo Higaki, the younger brothers of Sugata’s arch-nemesis Gennosuke Higaki. The Higaki brothers have mastered the art of karate and plan to seek revenge for their brother’s defeat. However, at first Sugata refuses to fight. That is, until the Higaki brothers begin to assault and injure various members of the Shudokan, Sugata decides he must end it once and for all.
Legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa had a hit film with his original Sanshiro Sugata. The film despite having wartime censorship contained no pro-Japanese propaganda and turned out to be a classic film about the spiritual path of a judoka. When he was approached to do this sequel, he was unsure until Toho pushed for it. The end result is a pretty good film that has themes that can influence some of the current martial arts films of today.
The typical theme of revenge plays out for most of the film. While the Higaki brothers seek revenge against the titular Sugata for their brother’s upsetting loss, it is Sugata who ultimately must seek revenge when his students become victims of the karateka brothers. However, a plot twist arrives in the film as Ryunosuke Tsugikata plays both the hot-headed Tesshin and the defeated Gennosuke, who has found it in his heart to forgive Sugata and understand why he defeated him two years ago. Gennosuke even goes as far as giving Sugata the secret to his family’s form of karate. However, old wounds almost open when Gennosuke sees Miss Sayo, whom he fell for but lost her heart to Sugata.
Sugata’s conflict in life not only pertains to the revenge-seeking karatekas, but that of Western influence making its way to Japan. With the U.S. Embassy planning to introduce Western boxing to Japan, Kurosawa wrote the screenplay to bring forth perhaps a message for the survival of Japanese martial arts and goes as far as displaying Americans as “lovers of violence” as they constantly cheer for the boxing champion of the film. In a bold scene, Sugata walks towards a double door with two U.S. flags as he sees jujitsu expert Sekine beaten at the hands of the American boxer. The use of Western influence as an adversary in Asia can be later seen in films like Once Upon a Time in China, Fearless, and more recently, Ip Man 2.
The action sequences are well done for its era once again. Lead actor Susumu Fujita is truly at the top of his game as the titular judoka. Playing a jujitsu expert in the original, Ryûnosuke Tsukigata returns as a karateka and once again, their climatic battle is top notch. Instead of a wind-filled field, Fujita and Tsukigata duke it out in the snow filled mountainous area of a forest. The two contrasting styles are well planned by a group of four martial artists who served as the film’s action instructors. There is even Western boxing, courtesy of Middle Eastern-born actor Roy James, who plays boxing champion Lister. Unlike films like Rocky and Raging Bull, James resorts to using fast repetitive body shots rather than hit the head as much.
Sanshiro Sugata Part Two is truly a wonderful sequel to a classic martial arts film. It could be said to be a prototype due to its depiction of Western influence as more of a negative rather than a positive. With the addition of some shocking twists, it truly ranks as good as its predecessor.
WFG RATING: A
A Toho Co. Ltd. Production. Director: Akira Kurosawa. Producer: Motohiko Itô. Writer: Akira Kurosawa; based on the novel by Tsuneo Tomita. Cinematography: Takeo Itô. Editing: Akira Kurosawa.
Cast: Denjirô Ôkôchi, Susumu Fujita, Yukiko Todoroki, Ryûnosuke Tsukigata, Akitake Kôno, Ichirô Sugai, Osman Yusuf, Kokuten Kôdô, Sôji Kiyokawa, Masayuki Mori, Seiji Miyaguchi, Ko Ishida, Kazu Hikari, Roy James, E.H. Eric.