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Western actors in "Sanshiro Sugata part 2"

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    Don B

    Hello — I watched “Sanshiro Sugata Part 2” by Kurosawa (DVD available from Criterion as part of “Early Kurosawa”).

    Several scenes show about 20 Western actors, men and women, mostly extras, some in closeups. They are clearly non-Japanese and a few can be heard speaking basic English. They are shown cheering during a match between a Japanese martial-arts fighter and an American-style boxer.

    This film was released on May 3 1945 (Donald Richie). Does that mean it was shot between January and April 1945, as a reasonable guess? It certainly was shot during World War Two, since, as Richie notes, it was a propaganda film and followed the guidelines of the Japanese Army. Japan did not surrender until September 1945.

    My question:

    Who were these Western extras? Did any Westerners live normal civilian lives in Japan near the end of the war? Were they perhaps Germans, since Germany was an ally of Japan? It would be bizarre if they were British or American prisoners of war, but I guess that’s possible.

    In the spring of 1945 Japanese cities were flaming ruins. Thousands of Japanese soldiers and civilians died each day under Allied bombing. It’s hard to imagine any film being shot and released under these conditions, but a few were, including “Sanshiro Sugata Part 2.” Perhaps they were shot in studios away from bombed-out areas. Still … where the heck did so many Western civilians come from? Has anyone come across this in any book or any memoir? Donald Richie does not mention the topic.

    One last thing: as a rule Western actors are very rare in Japanese films, except for multi-ethnic specialties such as “Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence” and “Dersu Uzala.”

    I’d be very grateful for any info. Thank you
    Don B
    USA

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    Vili Maunula

    Hi Don!

    The film was indeed shot in early 1945 and was something that Kurosawa wasn’t particularly interested in working on, only doing so due to studio pressure. Few films were made at the time due to the conditions that you mentioned — I think Toho for instance only released a handful that spring, while on a normal year they would release several dozens.

    The main Western actors in the film are Turkish, or more specifically I believe Volga Tatar immigrants whose families had moved to Japan after the Russian revolution made it difficult for them to stay in Russia. The boxer for instance was Osman Yusuf who went on to act in a number of Japanese films. Another prominent actor in the film is Roy James, born Abdul Hannan Safa. Most likely the film’s western extras also come from the the Turkish or similar immigrant groups.

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    Don B

    Thank you. That’s quite a story & it answers my question. The entries for those two actors on IMDB hit the spot. I should have looked there instead of relying on the info on the Criterion box.

    Sanshiro Sugata Part 2 isn’t a very good film; Donald Richie’s explanation helped. I don’t think much of Part 1 either. The military guidelines are partly reponsible for the forced nature of the films; but it’s true that Part 1 has interesting shots, camera angles and quick-editing.

    And it’s always fun to spot members of Kurosawa’s “troupe” when they were young — Masayuki Mori, Takashi Shimura, Seiji Miyaguchi. Not to mention Denjiro Okochi.

    Thanks again.
    Don Buck

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