Two films filmed 59 years apart but with so much in common
copyright© 1943 Toho Company
Our second Head to Head review begins with a look at one of the Oldest Martial arts films ,most films around this time that touched on the genre were Swordplay films.
What's more this is a film by renowned director Akira Kurosawa. In fact it's his first fully fledged outing as director. Many will associate Kurosawa with the Seven Samurai or Yojimbo or the many other films he did with Toshiro Mifune.
But by over looking his earlier works you will be sure to be missing out on the whole story of one of the Greatest Directors of our time.
The story of Sanshiro Sugata is a pretty simple one it follows the conflict between Jujutsu and Judo in the late 19th century , Jigoro Kano had invented the art of Judo ,combining elements of the various Jujutsu schools and styles and like Bruce Lee did some 70 years later ,take out the classical mess so to speak.
The film is based on the novel of the same name written by Tsuneo Tomita, the son of prominent judoka Tsunejirō Tomita. It follows the story of Sanshiro, a determined youth, who travels into the city in order to learn Jujutsu.
Sanshiro enters the city looking to enroll at a Jujutsu school , he eventually gets taken in by one such club , the teacher and fellow students are quite a bullish group , Now what happens is that a fellow student comes in shouting about a certain man called Yano who is the teacher of a Judo school, ( Judo is being blamed for the decline in people taking up Jujutsu) off they go with Sanshiro at the back. By a nearby water front the Thuggish Jujutsu group take on this lone man as they attack him he dispatches each one ,some into the water. Sanshiro looks on in amazement . After the fight Sanshiro approaches the man to ask about his art and if he could learn it.
After agreeing Sanshiro accompanies the man ( Shogoro Yano) to his school. Now Sanshiro is a very determined and also has his own moral rules , and when he gets into a street fight ,Yano accuses him of Thuggery and decides he will not teach him. With this Sanshiro begs for forgiveness but Yano is set in his mind . It's now that Sanshiro will demonstrate to learn about himself as much as any body else , he leaps into the Pond behind the dojo and waits for forgiveness from Yano. ( I tell you this man has a Long Wait) For days Sanshiro stays put in the Cold Dark murky pond ,clinging on for life he barley stays afloat until the call comes for him to get out of the pond..
With stipulation that he may not compete in Judo ,Sanshiro must train and do his chores to redeem himself . This comes at a time when Top flight Jujutsu Exponent Gennosuke Higaki is out to show the Judo men what's for after the beating the Jujutsu group got at the waterfront from Yano.
Higaki appears at the dojo when Yano is away and challenges them to a fight ,after injuring one Student he confronts Sanshiro ,who is instructed not to get involved because of his punishment by a visiting Judo master . Hikagi leaves in disgust of not being able to fight. Now by now Sanshiro has a reputation of being a tough cookie , the local kids sing his name .
When Sanshiro is allowed to compete he is pitted against a aging Jujutsu master named Hansuke Murai . In another scene we see Sanshiro help a young girl he has become obsessed with after he has witnesses her dedication at prayer a local shrine.
When he finally gets to meet her ,it's in a chance meeting when he helps repair her shoe ( you know those large lumps of wood ,how do they walk in those) A later meeting sees them exchange words ,she tells him she prays for her dad to win a big Jujutsu match coming up , he must fight a younger tough Judo man named Sugata.
With this Sanshiro beckons his goodbye and run off , only to turn around and tell her who he is. With her amazed look on her face he bids her farewell and wishes her father the best.
When the fight approaches it's quite a big affair organized with the Police in Attendance , once started the match is a well balanced match with some nicely shot work, you can see were Kurosawa got his inspiration for his later work.
Of course the the aging master is no match for the younger man and Sugata is proclaimed the winner. .While Murai is carried off.
With Murai bedridden Sanshiro feels sad ,but when Master Murai sends his daughter to fetch Sanshiro for Dinner ,it seems friendship will blossom between victor and master.
What's not so hot is when fellow Jujutsu man Higaki walks in on the trio having a pleasant lunch
Higaki is hell bent on revenge for Jujutsu ,his judgement is jaded by anger . But in the end Sanshiro will have to face Higaki ,not just for Judo ,Yano or himself but for honor and the fact that Higaki has feelings for Murai's daughter and she not for him .
The end fight will take place on a windy day on a hillside field where justice will prevail and Honor will win .
Now for me this was simply a amazing film ,but then being a Jujutsu exponent myself I new I would like it . But as a film that shows the rights an wrongs of practicing a Martial art it's quite inspiring . The self discipline showed by Sanshiro is very true to many martial artists and something seen in numerous films since .
Even the action for a film made in 1943 is quite well choreographed. From a Jujutsu /Judo point of view it is a must see film for all who practice either art , because the Judo of these times where just Jujutsu in a different form and that's how Jigoro Kano intended it to be .
Now for the bad bit, after the films initial release the film was cut by a crazy 17 minutes by Japanese film censors to fit into their new polices for films during the war. Without the consent of the director or film-makers a total 1845 feet of film was taken out and left on the cutting room floor.
So most people have only seen the film in it's cut 79 minute form . Now in the latest BFI release of the film eleven minutes have been found ,but sadly not reinstated into the film.
But these eleven minutes are viewable in a extras feature on the disc.
Now having watched the film for the first time ,i thoroughly enjoyed it ,even though segments seem to jump a bit. And I did wonder who the other older Judo man was when Higaki appears at the Judo dojo. Of course I found out after watching the extras. And along with the other minutes they shed quite a bit of light on the film. If these had been reinstated into the film it would have flowed better . Plus of the still lost six minutes I wonder if they contained more of the end fight , as I thought the final showdown was somewhat short.
As a inspiring piece of cinema Sanshiro Sugata is a fine film and a must see for any Kurosawa or Jujutsu or Judo fan.
But because of the cuts I can not award it top marks here , but as it stands in it's 79 minute form ..
Score out of Ten = a mesmerizing 8
Would have been a 9 if the extras were in the film.
Japan in the late 19th Century
|Directed by||Akira Kurosawa|
|Produced by||Keiji Matsuzaki|
|Written by||Akira Kurosawa |
|Starring||Denjirō Ōkōchi |
|Music by||Seiichi Suzuki|
|Distributed by||Toho Company Ltd.|
|Release date(s)||March 25, 1943|
|Running time||80 / 97 minutes|
copyright© One Hundred Yeas of Film/ China Star Entertainment 2004
Films about Jujutsu or Judo are few and far between. Now I am reviewing this as part of our June Head to Head review . In 2004 Director Johnnie To made a passionate film as a tribute to Akira Kurosawa. His chosen subject was JUDO ,which of course was the subject of Mr,Kurosawa's first film (as above) .
Apparently Judo became quite big in Hong Kong ,and even Johnnie To was a practitioner ,crazy when you think of Hong Kong as the home of the Kung Fu movie. But truth be told many top flight professionals where practicing Judo in Hong Kong in the 70's 80's and beyond and many still do.
Of course the Judo was based more akin to Jigoro Kano's original vision of Judo then the more Olympic style we see in the West today.
Here we have a film which follows the paths of three young people and how their meeting will send them on a journey of friendship and self enlightenment in the busy world of Hong Kong. Where honor is most respected and the gang leaders rule with a sturdy hand.
Louis Koo plays Sze-to a Night club owner who spends most of his time in a drunken stupor or recovering from one. He has loads of debts and gambles to ease his despair. But his background is one of a honorable life. Sze-to has a Judo teacher ( Master Cheng) who runs a small dojo , Sze-to was a Golden boy of Judo and two years prior was to compete against a master Judo champion by the name of Kong Lee. Sze-to did not turn up and since then has not engaged in the art ,even though he does see his master and his son Jing.
Jing is a mentally ill man who though physically OK has learning problems and basically is a child in a man’s body.
But it seems that Sze-to's life will take a turn for the better ,but at a cost.. Enter Tony (Aaron Kwok) a young Judo exponent who is in love with Judo ,he travels challenging dojo's and respected practitioners of the art .And any any big man he think he can take on.
Tony turns up at the bar which Sze-to owns at the same time as a young girl (Mona) who is looking to break into the entertainment business ,after getting thrown out of her apartment for not paying the rent she stumbles across the club and asks for a job.
After impromptu audition where Sze-to is more concerned about getting sober and getting out he convinces the two to accompany him to a local Pachinko and Video game parlor . Getting money of his new found friends he makes them play video games .
You see desperate for money Sze-to is out to steal some money of local gangster Brother Savage , who he himself is a budding Judo exponent and ruthless gangster running protection rackets.
Savage comes across as a slightly obsessed character who's affliction of playing fighting games , seems offset to his Gangster character who punishes his workers if they are late with any payments from their racket. One scene sees him turn to two young workers who are about to leave after delivering their pick up and beckoning them back. He calmly takes out a Stanley craft knife from his pocket and slowly cuts across the chest of one of the workers ,telling him Not to be late next time. What’s more the worker leaves with his colleague as if they have just got let of lightly as he bleeds purfusley from his chest.
Having got the cash from Savage by switching his case Sze-to pays the two their reward ,Mona is thankful for the cash whilst Tony just wants to fight Sze-to . In as quick of a flash Tony has Sze-to on the ground and is choking him ,releasing only after the shouting of Mona. Disappointed by Sze-to's ability Tony Leaves.
What's funny is even after managing to gain the money by deception ,Sze-to manages to lose it all gambling , here he takes Mona along who extremely distressed by Sze-to throwing money away snatches the cash and makes run for it .
The scene is one of pure genius as Mona runs of with the cash in her hands ,it's falling everywhere ,Gangsters are in chase while Sze-to runs along. It's late at night and the streets are empty apart from Mona and Sze-to and the chasing gangsters from the gambling den.
As you see the cash falling and flying of down the street ,the chasers stop to pick it up as does Mona who facing her chasers grabs at the cash on the ground ,picking as much as she can ,when the gangsters decide to give chase she makes a run for it ,and Sze-to comes to her rescue only to get beaten , leaving him battered and shoeless he runs after Mona who returns back to the scene to recover his shoe right in front of the amazed Gangsters.
It's a scene which could be placed in many film as people scrabble for cash on the ground ,but done with such emphasis on the desperation of each of the characters involved ,your not likely see this so beautifully done.
Later back at the club ,Tony is waiting for Sze-to ,he wants to fight him for real ,but Sze-to is in no state to fight , as the night draws in the bar opens and different factions arrive including Brother Savage ,Master Cheng another hard business man who Sze-to owns money to for the club and Mona's agent ( Jordan Chan) who had put her into porno movies.
As our trio try and make amends with each of the visitors by going table to table to discuss their grievances .Savage wants to engage all three as all of them had a part in ripping him off.
Master Cheng want's Sze-to to live life again . But knows he may never return to the dojo. Mona's agent wants her to full-fill her contract but as she has been shouting that he made her a prostitute ,the others look on in disgust. .
It's here that our visiting factions will get rowdy a massive bar fight breaks out , but unlike bar room brawl ,this is a display of Judo ,with people being thrown left right and center ,as the bar gets trashed the bar empties as the fight filters onto the street , sitting on a chair in the bar is Kong Lee, he looks on at Sze-to and tells him he had waited to fight him two years ago ,but now he was no match for anyone. Kong gets up and wanders outside where the patrons of the bar are in a massive battle ,as you see each throw you could name them ,each is done with precision and at a pace to see the move , As kong jumps over a railing he strikes using a devastating technique to take out most of the fracas causing opponents.
He turns to Master Cheng and bows , and looks on at Tony and tells him he is welcome any time at the dojo ,but as he had been there before his next visit would be different .
Days later Tony is back at the club ,this time with a dislocated arm ,Mona asks why he does this ,he replies that he has Glaucoma and so he fights while he can , Sze-to has been with his master to , Master Cheng has told him he is in training and feeling good ,and that he will fight Kong at the competition, Jing looks on and greets Sze-to with his favorite saying '' I'll be Sanshiro Sugata and your play Higaki'' .
The day of the competition and Sze-to waits outside the stadium , hesitant to enter to see his master fight, unfortunately out of the building a man is rushed out ,he has fallen unconscious after being thrown , as Sze-to looks on he notices Jing ,Master Cheng has fallen .
With the news of Master Chengs death , Sze-to helps the Authorities with help with Jing , but Jing is reluctant to be put in a home.
As Sze-to looks on at the dojo ,you can see something in his face ,memories of past life and maybe how he could have been. A legacy gone is not a good one.
It will be later on at the bar when Tony ( who has been training his injured arm ,and throwing one armed ) gets into a brawl with Sze-to , it's here that Sze-to 's grief and anger gets the better of him for a while and actually gives Tony a fight. .
As Sze-to wanders into the street he comes across the dojo he looks up at it and it's as if he has been woken from a life long sleep ,as he starts to think JUDO . Entering the Dojo he witnesses Jing running in ,he has run a way again from the home .
The two engage in some bonding with food and a good awakening ,Sze-to goes back to the bar to confront Tony ,the two engage in a form of combative randori which is a joy to see.
Sze-to goal in the end will be to challenge Kong ,they will fight in field ,while Jing sings a age old Chant .
Johnnie To makes some great films , I loved the PTU films and though I have yet to see Sparrow ( it's one that I missed somewhere) Throwdown has a special place in my heart because of the Judo /Jujutsu theme.
Yes the film is a tribute to Akira Kurosawa , Johnnie To incorporates some very faint nuances in the film, the way the characters have little to say , So much is visible on their faces ( such as the joy Tony has in finding new opponents to demonstrate on) there's a lot going on in such a simple story visual aids give a clue to the real reason behind Sze-to's fall from grace. And for the same reason why he rediscovered himself.
The film is more of a tribute to the art of Judo/Kano Jigoro and Sanshiro Sugata which is mentioned more then once by Jing.
Score out of Ten = a Hani Goshi 10
|Directed by||Johnnie To|
|Produced by||Stephen Lam |
|Written by||Yau Nai-Hoi |
|Starring||Louis Koo |
|Music by||Peter Kam|
|Editing by||David Richardson|
|Studio||One Hundred Years of Film |
|Distributed by||China Star Entertainment Group|
|Release date(s)||July 15, 2004 (Hong Kong)|
|Running time||95 minutes|
For Judo/Jujutsu aficionados Throwdown is a must see, the techniques on show are brilliantly executed and show a perfection of the art . Which for me is why ''Throwdown '' is the ultimate film for all Judo/Jujutsu fans to see . Even though Akira Kurosawa's Sanshiro Sugata was a landmark in film as far as it's content. The ridiculous cutting of 1845 ft of film left the film in a very shortened state .
And as you can not see it in any other form other then the cut version , it means in this Head to Head …...
Throwdown is the winner and not only that ,it's also a film well deserved of the highest score I can a ward on the site .
Only a Trailer for ''Throwdown '' ,Seems the BFI have made Youtube remove all Sanshiro Related ones.