Sanshiro Sugata Part Two: Mining the shallows
9 September 2010
9 September 2010
Whoah, Chris, nicely done!
“In order for someone to win, another has to lose, but both the loser and the winner are a symbiotic unit, one existing with the other. “
The Dao says, “Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.” and further…
“He who rushes ahead
doesn’t go far.
He who tries to shine
dims his own light.
He who defines himself
can’t know who he really is.
He who has power over others
can’t empower himself.”
and, finally, relevant to the relationship of good and bad:
“What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher? What is a bad man but a good man’s job?”
10 September 2010
Those are some great (and fascinating) quotes, cocoskyavitch. They definitely describe what I see as being articulated (to some degree) in Sugata Part Two.
Incidentally, sometime later after posting my message above, I thought of another victim of Sugata’s success to add to my list above.
4. Sayo herself is a victim, at least in Sugata’s eyes. Her father Murai has died and Sugata feels directly responsible for his death. Like Higaki, after being defeated by Sugata, Murai may (or may not; we don’t really know) have deteriorated. Or else we can imagine that his life’s work was done and he willingly passed on, a kind of literal passing of the torch from Murai to Sugata. In any event, Sugata blames himself. He feels he has brought pain into the life of the woman he loves.
We get the sense that Sugata feels he is damaging everything he touches: Murai, Higaki, Sayo, the jujitsu fighter (he representing all jujitsu fighters who have suffered), and finally, the insane Higaki brothers who perhaps may be the physical representations of the rage of the damaged.
17 September 2010
Thanks for the fascinating insights, Chris!
This film is viciously criticized by most people. Donald Richie, particularly, is brutal in his judgments. But after watching it myself I don’t at all find it as lacking as so many others do. … I would never go as far as to say that this film is a masterpiece, but I found much more depth in the film than others have.
For me, the main problem with the film is that while there indeed are several interesting moments and ideas, none of them are really developed to any significant extent. It feels like we are just running through the motions to get to the 80 minute point. Of course, my view here may well be too much influenced by my familiarity with the conditions in which the film was made.
In this sequel, Sugata is a master of his art. He has achieved great success and is renowned for this success. Having a character like this as the protagonist presents complications for the narrative. A successful person has no room to develop and in a sense become one-dimensional just acting out his success without obtaining anything new. But in this film, Kurosawa examines the consequences of Sugata’s success and forces Sugata to deal with these consequences.
I think that this is a very accurate view about the ambitions of the film. However, I don’t think that the film actually manages to properly deal with these notions.
To begin with, I find it a little difficult to agree with Sugata that he is personally responsible for the ill fates of the four that you mention. At least the Higaki brothers, in my eyes, do not really have a case, as the eldest brother lost fair and square. I’m a little more sympathetic towards the jujitsu fighter, as it is not so much his own personal problem but that of his entire profession since judo is now the money maker in martial arts following Sugata’s success in the first film. However, I would agree with Yano when he points out to Sugata that the whole thing is not about individuals or even competing schools, but rather about the development of Japanese martial arts as a whole. Sugata’s victories are simply one part of that evolutionary process, and without them that process wouldn’t move forward. Finally, while I feel for Sayo, I am again not certain if Sugata really should feel responsible there, either.
But this is perhaps completely beside the point since Sugata does in any case feel responsible. And would he go on to properly resolve his inner turmoil, I think it would make one fine film. However, I don’t really see these problems being solved. A case in point is the jujitsu practitioner who is suddenly thanking Sugata as if everything was now all right after Sugata has defeated the boxer, a moment which I felt particularly weak. This is true also of the other characters he has hurt. Rather than Sugata working out the underlying problems that he has with winning and in doing so growing up as a character, it seems to me that it is actually his enemies that change and come to accept him through his actions. As a result, Sugata’s quest here seems quite empty.
Most critics seem to be particularly upset with what they feel is the wartime propaganda of showing the foreigners (Americans, specifically) as barbaric savages. I find it odd, though, that no one has ever mentioned the one line of dialogue from The Most Beautiful when all the girls chant together: “We will destroy the Americans and the British!” As an American, myself, that disturbed me far more than anything in Sanshiro Sugata Part Two.
That’s a good point, although I see this a little differently. Because of its documentary style, the propaganda aspects of The Most Beautiful come across to me as less provoking, even when they are shouting about destroying the Americans and the British. There, I feel, the film is simply showing what is happening, and I can look at the characters and say that that’s their point of view, but it doesn’t need to be mine. In Sanshiro Sugata II, however, these things are communicated on a more metaphorical level, and since it feels a little like we are being tricked into accepting these messages, the whole thing paradoxically comes across as more didactic than the direct wartime propaganda of The Most Beautiful. Could this be why critics attack the propaganda in Sanshiro Sugata II while almost praising it in The Most Beautiful? (Which would be paradoxical, since it seems like Sanshiro Sugata II might actually be more effective as a propaganda film?)
For the fact is boxing is barbaric and it is a perfect way to show the difference between the humble art of judo and the lack of this in other martial arts. It should be noted that karate is shown to be equally barbaric and lacking in respect as boxing is (as jujitsu was shown in the first film). Furthermore, these boxing scenes are directed with such flair and intensity that I can forgive a little propaganda. Sound and visual are mixed together in a very effective way. The tension is, at times, palpable.
What I know about martial arts (including boxing) could probably be summed up in half a sentence, but to me the way boxing is portrayed in the film seems at times quite comical. For instance, in the first fight that we see, the boxers appear to be hitting one another without any sort of plan or method. This is even more true of the portrayal of karate in the film. The final epic fight is particularly painful to watch, and the movements and sounds made by the karateka seem at times quite ridiculous, reminding me more of a cat fight than a graceful master practising his art. Then again, I don’t think I have ever actually seen real karate in action, so maybe karate actually is like that?
I wonder though if it is boxing and karate that we are dealing with here because both are foreign practices — boxing from the west and karate, I think, coming to mainland Japan only sometime in the early 20th century? If so, we could say that the first Sanshiro Sugata film is something of an internal struggle between two Japanese styles (jujitsu and judo), while in the second one the prevailing Japanese style is now fighting foreign invaders. As far as propaganda films go, the first one could be seen as a film which instructs how we should develop ourselves, while the second film tells us what to think about and how to respond to the enemy. Curiously, this is almost a polar opposite of Sanshiro’s own story line, as in the first film he is actually fighting the enemy, while in the second one he really is, as you more or less suggest here, fighting against himself.
22 September 2010
For me, the main problem with the film is that while there indeed are several interesting moments and ideas, none of them are really developed to any significant extent. It feels like we are just running through the motions to get to the 80 minute point.
I can’t disagree with you on this. Part Two is a pale comparison to the first, but I hesitate to call it a failure. I feel it is not a bad film by a bad director, but a lesser film by a legendary director. It’s probably his worst film, but we are talking about a man who directed Seven Samurai, High and Low, and Ran!
A case in point is the jujitsu practitioner who is suddenly thanking Sugata as if everything was now all right after Sugata has defeated the boxer, a moment which I felt particularly weak.
Yes, absolutely, but this weak narrative thread exists in the same film where during the jujitsu fighter’s first fight with the boxer, Sugata ascends the stairs of the embassy to leave feeling shame and regret; he looks back from the top and we see the boxing ring from his point of view, high up, looking down, and there in the ring the jujitsu fighter is shamelessly beaten in a heart wrenchingly pathetic parody of a fight. Sugata is overcome. This is such a brilliant scene and the film contains such small moments of brilliance (albeit few) that I just can’t dismiss it so thoroughly as someone like Richie does.
I’m a miner of the shallows!
22 September 2010
Because of its documentary style, the propaganda aspects of The Most Beautiful come across to me as less provoking, even when they are shouting about destroying the Americans and the British. There, I feel, the film is simply showing what is happening, and I can look at the characters and say that that’s their point of view, but it doesn’t need to be mine.
This is curious, and I can completely see your views here. It got me thinking too: The Most Beautiful is made in a very documentary way. It feels like we are watching real factory workers in a real factory during a real war. We see all aspects of their lives as they live them and judge them as we would real people. But the reality, of course, is that all these people are actors performing in an entirely fictional narrative. Somehow, though, the way the narrative is presented make us as viewers more accepting. These people are real and these are the conditions of their reality or so we believe.
Sanshiro Sugata Part Two, however, is clearly a fictional narrative directed in a form that we can point to very clearly and say, “This is a movie. This is not a documentary.” Even though both films are fictional, Sanshiro Sugata Part Two stands out all the more as being fictitious, so we are less forgiving at what it may be saying than we are with a film like The Most Beautiful. It’s very curious how the ways a story can be told even if they are the same story (or share similar aspects) can engender entirely different reactions and empathies from an audience.
It’s as if we see fiction as a manipulative form of storytelling but documentary as a window into another life than ours. The manipulation of fiction angers us if we perceive the message as counter to our own beliefs. We fear these contrary ideas are lurking in wait for us to pass by and then jump on us and devour us. But the reality of the documentary fascinates us as something we are distant from and in no danger of being manipulated by for we know it is foreign, it’s alien beliefs are on the surface and in no way will these lurk unknowingly in our subconcious.
22 September 2010
I’m a miner of the shallows!
Indeed you are, Chris! 🙂 And you have pulled some diamonds out of that mine of yours. In fact, I must say that you have managed to point out things that at least for me make Sanshiro Sugata II a more interesting film that what it was a few weeks ago. Thanks for that!
The contrast between fiction and documentary is interesting, especially since neither is necessarily more objective and true than the other, even if one is directly based on reality and the other is not. In fact, with many if not most documentaries one tends to get the feeling that things are too staged, and are represented too one-sidedly — something that fictional works are often much better at doing. I remember when I first realised as a kid that a great deal of those brilliant David Attenborough nature documentaries that I so loved were staged; if not while filming, then in the editing room.
Everything is of course further complicated by genres like docufiction, ethnofiction and docudrama.
24 September 2010
Sugata I saw as a metaphor for the westernization of Japan. Sports like Boxing becoming popular and in the first fight with the jujitsu fighter, evidently winning that battle. Sugata symbolizes the heart of Japan, and his struggle of maintaining that honor.
Throughout the film we see the difficulties he has dealing with foreign influence, and I guess you could say he has to fight fire with fire. By breaking the rules of the dojo, he brings himself to a level playing field where he can redeem the art of Judo.
2 January 2011
I’ve just watched Sanshiro Sugata part 2 and actually quite enjoyed it (after being prepared – by Richie’s book – for it to be terrible). I think the worst thing about it is that it can’t exist on its own, you have to see it after part one (which is, I agree, a far better film).
Sugata still seems quite immature in many ways – he has physical mastery of his art, but still struggles to let go of his ego when challenged. He succeeds, with difficulty, at the Embassy, but then weakly lets everything go and decides to wilfully break all the dojo rules. Having said that, the first film saw one big moment of enlightenment whereas in the second Sugata smiles much more often, and seems to have many small moments of enlightenment (I love the meditation scene, very funny!).
I’m very interested in the inclusion of karate as it’s an art I’ve practised myself for over 25 years. Karate wasn’t introduced to mainland Japan until the 1920s, though that’s not to say there couldn’t have been practitioners going to and from from Okinawa and Japan in the 1880s. There is also the possibility that the karate brothers are actually practitioners of Chinese Boxing (which is what karate originally meant – ‘Chinese Hand’) rather than true Okinawan karate. Karate was still new(ish) in Japan in 1945 when Kurosawa made Sugata 2 (it had spread to a few universities by then; Mifune did karate in the 1930s, I think), but he does use what was probably its most characteristic feature – the shuto, or ‘karate chop’, shown slicing down a small tree and the most definite technique in evidence. Otherwise it looks nothing like a karate fight (and the kiai shouts are horrendous)! The style certainly looks quite strongly Chinese, leaning towards the Naha area of Okinawa (going by the stances and claw hands, but to be honest, it’s probably the actor making it all up anyway).
A point of interest, and relating to the Judoka vs boxer scene, is that in the mid-1920s there was a famous match between the rather unruly karate master, Choki Motobu, and a Western boxer (possibly Russian, American or German). Motubu, wearing a judo gi, beat the boxer, doing much for the pride of Japanese martial arts. A couple of years later the incident was written up in a magazine but was mistakenly illustrated depicting a different karate master, the more gentlemanly Gichin Funakoshi (largely credited with introducing karate to Japan in the early 20s). Motobu and Funakoshi did not get on. Motobu liked to fight and was much more ‘jutsu’, Funakoshi was a Confucian scholar, and had much more of the ‘do’ – the two sides of old style karate-jutsu and the more modern – and successful – karate-do. Funakoshi adapted the karate gi and belt grading system from Kano’s judo.
Skipping over to Sugata 1, I was interested to see some historical accuracy there – with Jigoro Kano (‘Shogoro Yano’) opening his Kodokan (‘Shudokan’) dojo in the grounds of the Eishoji Buddhist temple in 1882 (when Sanshiro Sugata is set).
This film is viciously criticized by most people. Donald Richie, particularly, is brutal in his judgments. But after watching it myself I don’t at all find it as lacking as so many others do. The general consensus seems to be that the film is just a conventional melodrama lacking any depth to the characters. Sugata is just a typical movie hero, and the villains are just typical movie villains. I believe Richie says something along the lines that this film is what the first Sanshiro Sugata would have been if a conventional director had directed it.
I would never go as far as to say that this film is a masterpiece, but I found much more depth in the film than others have. In this sequel, Sugata is a master of his art. He has achieved great success and is renowned for this success. Having a character like this as the protagonist presents complications for the narrative. A successful person has no room to develop and in a sense become one-dimensional just acting out his success without obtaining anything new. But in this film, Kurosawa examines the consequences of Sugata’s success and forces Sugata to deal with these consequences. For in order to win in a match against an opponent, that opponent has to lose. Every antagonist in this film has been somehow damaged by Sugata’s success.
The following are those who have been damaged:
1. Gennosuke Higaki – Overcome by a sickness which is leading to his death, he is a shell of his former self. Sugata has usurped his position in life, his skills and his former love.
2. The two Higaki brothers – They are representative of the old Higaki: Through misguided family honor they seek to enact their revenge on Sugata for the defeat of their brother, whose wasting away they blame on Sugata.
3. The jujitsu fighter – He has lost his dignity because through judo’s dominance (directly a result of Sugata defeating Murai), jujitsu has fallen out of favor. He is forced to survive by humiliating himself for money by fighting the American boxer.
These four antagonists work together to present Sugata with the awful consequences of success. The path Sugata must follow and the redemption he strives for here is one of acceptance of his own success. This is a very interesting concept and one not often dealt with in fiction. We often see losers or underdogs becoming winners; rarely do we see a winner dealing with his/her winning.
We can see Sugata emoting this turmoil in various ways. Chief amongst this is his dealings with the rickshaw driver, Daisuburo, who wants to learn judo. Sugata tries hard to persuade him not to (even leading to that humorously painful scene where Sugata physically punishes Daisuburo to the point where he hopes he will give up his desires). Sugata sees himself in Daisuburo. (The beginning of Part Two, of course, echoes the beginning of the first film to create this empathy for Sugata.) Sugata seems to be trying to prevent Daisuburo from experiencing what he is experiencing: this guilt brought on by his success (a kind of survivor’s guilt, perhaps?).
Most critics seem to be particularly upset with what they feel is the wartime propaganda of showing the foreigners (Americans, specifically) as barbaric savages. I find it odd, though, that no one has ever mentioned the one line of dialogue from The Most Beautiful when all the girls chant together: “We will destroy the Americans and the British!” As an American, myself, that disturbed me far more than anything in Sanshiro Sugata Part Two. For the fact is boxing is barbaric and it is a perfect way to show the difference between the humble art of judo and the lack of this in other martial arts. It should be noted that karate is shown to be equally barbaric and lacking in respect as boxing is (as jujitsu was shown in the first film). Furthermore, these boxing scenes are directed with such flair and intensity that I can forgive a little propaganda. Sound and visual are mixed together in a very effective way. The tension is, at times, palpable.
And I don’t see the inclusion of the boxing as arbitrarily and solely a means of proganda either. They do serve the narrative. Yano’s dojo has three rules: No drinking inside, No fighting personal battles, and No fighting for entertainment. Sugata seems to have an all or nothing view here. If he is to defying his order, he has to go all the way. In order to fight this duel with the Higaki brothers (and achieve his full redemption), he feels he has to break all three rules. He drinks in the dojo purposefully. He then accepts to fight the American boxer seemingly for money. Finally, he is free to fight the duel he must fight thus breaking the final rule.
Also, in fighting with the American boxer he is redeeming the jujitsu fighter who has suffered from Sugata’s success. This is a vital step on his road to redemption. There is a systematic process of empathizing with his victims. He tenderly takes care of Gennosuke when he comes to see him. There’s is nothing he can do to save this man, but he humbles himself by carrying him in a rickshaw. Then he avenges the jujitsu fighter in defeating the American boxer. Finally, after defeating Teshin, he nurses him back to health.
In the end, he places himself knowningly (or perhaps naively) at the mercy of the two insane Higaki brothers. This, to me, is the finally step in his road to redemption. When he wakes the next morning seeing nothing has happened, he is still alive, he exits the hut and smiles into the morning sun. His worst enemies have accepted him and grant him his existence. In order for someone to win, another has to lose, but both the loser and the winner are a symbiotic unit, one existing with the other.