Akira Kurosawa is one of the most fascinating directors to read about even though his work has been liked, disliked, loved, and hated. A lot of major directors would point to him as someone who inspires them, but critics in Japan used to give Kurosawa shit because they thought he was pandering to Western audiences. His films have been evaluated and will continue to be reevaluated forever. Sanshiro Sugata was his directorial debut and a good one at that.
Sanshiro Sugata is a stubborn young man who dreams of becoming a Jujitsu master, but when he moves to the city, he learns about the craft of Judo. He has the strength to fight, but his mental game is weak, so his instructor forces him to go through a mental task to learn that fighting is about more than just muscles. Sanshiro quickly becomes the talk of the town as he starts balancing his strength with poise, but he must apply it in matches against other Judo masters. Things get really tricky when Sanshiro falls for Sayo, a young woman who is the daughter of one of Sanshiro’s opponents.
Some of this film has gotten lost over time, but what’s still here is pretty breathtaking. Kurosawa had a very natural way of directing simple scenes with elegance and fighting scenes with aggression. Susumu Fujita does a wonderful job as the title character, but my favorite performance is from Takashi Shimura as Sayo’s father. He was one of Kurosawa’s go-to actors, understandably so. I highly suggest watching Sanshiro Sugata if you enjoy the later Kurosawa work, but I don’t know if I would recommend starting with it just because he has so many fucking bangers out there.