Sanshiro Sugata was brought back for more Judo in Akira Kurosawa’s sequel to his popular debut. (Two films came in-between.) But the difference in how the war was going, and how it was perceived on the homefront, turned the discrete propaganda of the original (a call for all Japanese to come together) into something more concrete. This film opens with a big American sailor bullying his little rickshaw driver. But not to worry, Japanese filmgoers! Sanshiro Sugata is on the spot to toss that Yankee in the drink! And so it goes. The film winds up running two stories. In one, Sugata reluctantly enters a demonstration match where he takes on a champion boxer (and the West symbolically), and the second story, which holds far more interest, goes back to concerns from the first film as Sugata confronts the eccentric, karate-trained brothers of Higaki, the man he had bested in the original film. The story, a Kurosawa concoction, turns out another lesson for Sugata: a great master not only follows the rules, but knows when he must break free of them. The film is a bit ragged compared to the first, even though Kurosawa shows more confidence in breaking a few rules of his own. There’s a neat trick during the final fight in the snow (real snow, shoeless fighters, brrr!). Look for a slim tree that gets karate chopped so smoothly it holds in place for a moment before tipping in half. Like one of those big candles in an Errol Flynn sword fight.
DOUBLE-BILL: Er . . . SANSHIRO SUGATA PART I?