Saturday, May 7, 2011

Sugata sanshirô (Judo Saga)

(1943, Jap, 80m, b/w)
d/sc Kurosawa Akira p Matsuzaki Keiji ph Mimura Akira ed Gotô Toshio, Kurosawa Akira ad Tozuka Masao m Suzuki Seiichi cast Fujita Susumu, Ôkôchi Denjirô, Todoroki Yukiko, Tsukigata Ryunosuke, Shimura Takashi, Hanai Ranko

Box office success and a subsequent career of unparalleled international prestige amply justified Toho’s leapfrogging Kurosawa through the assistant ranks to helm his first feature. The tale of a judo student mastering his art and his self displays many familiar characteristics already in place, from the period setting to deft use of seasons and weather. It opens with an atmospheric moonlit confrontation of overwhelming odds and climaxes with a terrific duel on a wind-battered mountain pasture. In between, dynamic show fights are conducted like dances and result in violently broken bones and walls; a putative love affair is sweetly conducted (paired shots of outrageous visual innuendo aside) earning a nice psychological tension; and the bad guy is pointedly distinguished by his westerner's suit. The loss of seventeen minutes of negative during the war hardly seems to detract from the thoughtfully-crafted entertainment.

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