79. Film Review #5: Akira Kurosawa: ZOKU SUGATA SANSHIRO (Judo Saga II) (1945) (Part One)
ZOKU SUGATA SANSHIRO (Judo Saga II) (1945)
The music starts over the Toho logo...the credits are shown against a black background.
The background still black, we read: "Year 1887: Yokohama."
[Five years have passed since Sugata I, set in 1882].
A rickshaw is racing down the street. An American sailor (Osman Yusef) is screaming at the rickshaw boy:
"What? Stop, stop the car. You, yellow skin, stop the car. I ask you to stop the car. Stop the car."
The boy pulls the rickshaw over to the curb. The sailor attempts to strike the boy, which causes the entire rickshaw to fall backwards. The sailor is thrown out, and the redistributed weight causes the rickshaw boy to go crashing to the ground in the opposite direction. The sailor mutters something.
"You need to pay for it," says the boy.
"Get up. I want to beat you," screams the sailor. "You bastard," he yells, kicking the boy. A crowd has gathered...
They move to the sidewalk. "Don't go away. I want to beat you." He punches the boy, then kicks him twice. The boy ducks several punches before the sailor again has him in his grasp and hits him again. He is about to strike him again. The camera shows a close-up of the sailor's clenched fist. Suddenly, someone has grabbed this fist and says, "Stop. Release him."
The camera pulls back to reveal Sugata (Susumu Fujita). The sailor breaks his grip, and releases the boy.
"You want to fight with me?" he asks Sugata. "C'mon Japanese!"
"You'll get hurt if we fight here," says Sugata.
"Don't bullshit. You are a chick," counters the sailor. [The sailor seems to be speaking mostly in English, but the subtitles seem to only occasionally reflect what he is saying!]
Sugata kicks him in the foot and runs. "Where are you going? Don't run away, you chick" [I think he actually says "coward."]."Come on, fight like a man -- [you son-of-a-gun (no subtitles)]..." Sugata seems to be looking for an appropriate place to fight. He finally motions to the soldier to follow him...
"You want to escape. Don't go..." screams the sailor, as Sugata runs to the end of a pier. "Don't go. You are a chick. Let's fight."
Sugata has assumed the same pose as Yano did in the initial fight in Sugata I. He is calmly facing the sailor who has his arms and hands in the traditional Western boxing stance.
"Fight like a man. Come on. You Japanese."
The sailor finally attempts to hit Sugata. Sugata ducks the punch, takes the sailor on his back, and throws him in the water.
Sugata turns around and walks back. "Pupil," shouts the rickshaw boy. The boy bows three times to Sugata. Sugata grabs the boy. He seems afraid. Sugata brushes the boy's head and says, "You may be involved. I stay at the Bun Motel. Call Chee if you have any problems."
"Mr. Chee," the boy says, looking up at Sugata with an amazed expression on his face. "I know. I know. Mr. Chee of the Station? I know. I have seen it in the newspaper. Who beat Chuen at the Police Competition..."
Sugata's expression changes. "Sorry, I am busy," he says as he walks away.
The camera follows Sugata as he walks, his demeanor conflicted...
Cut to Sayo (Yukiko Todoroki). Downward pan to her hands, then to the floor. The camera begins to move to the left and the priest (Kokuten Kodo) comes into view.
"Miss Siu. Any letters from Saam? [Sugata?]"
Sayo: "We've lost contact since my dad died."
Priest: "He must think it's him that killed your dad. To be sorry. Anyway, Miss Siu, his advantage is honest. He's not clever, but he's serious to himself. Otherwise, he can't live any longer. That's pity. Nowadays not many modern students are that. So -- I like him this way." [I'll bet this speech is a whole lot clearer in Japanese!]
Cut to Sayo's profile -- she's smiling...
Cut to Sugata -- he's not. "Forget it, it's painful," he says to someone we can't yet see.
The camera pulls back to reveal Sugata on a balcony with the rickshaw boy in the right foreground. "Karate? As strong as you are also feels pain? Being a winner like you also feels pain?" he asks...
Sugata: "It's sad although I won. Sometimes I don't want to win!" He closes the doors.
Boy: "So you can..."
Boy: "Can put it this way." [huh?]
Sugata: (sitting) "But I can't lose. Anyway, I must win (pause). Sorry. Shouldn't talk this to you. I just want to say, learning karate isn't that easy. And I am not qualified to be the master. I am also a student."
The boy leans forward, as if to say something. A girl's voice interrupts. "Sorry." She opens the door and hands something to Sugata. "Guests are coming."
Close-up of card: "Mr. Po, the translator of the American Embassy."
Cut to (obviously) Mr. Po. He is laughing, his thumbs in his vest. As he is speaking, the camera slowly pulls back to reveal Sugata on the left and Sayo on the right, preparing food. Even in a film which Kurosawa claims to have had no interest in making, his usual splendid filmic geometry is ever present.
"It's well done for you to beat the American. Being a Japanese, I also feel excited. An American boxer. To Japanese he's an artist. He's the strongest boxer in the USA. Called William Star, he's in Japan now. He heard the news. Say the boxing skills of that sailor. It's a shame to say that is the standard of a boxer."
Sugata: "What does he want?"
Po: "That means, for the Japanese and the Americans, you are the representative, to have a fight with the American representative, William."
Sugata: "What is boxing?" [No one spits saké here, as in Sugata I.]
Po: "Boxing? Means using fists to fight. Two participants. Wear the boxing gloves. To hit the opponent's upper body." He has risen into a boxing position to demonstrate, just as Sayo has also risen with her food. Po is demonstrating his boxing using Sayo as his imaginary opponent. "...then the face and the nose will be bleeding..." (Sayo is now trying to get out of Po's way -- she moves around him and exits the room...) "....that's a bloody tragedy," he concludes. "The foreigners like that," he says as he returns to his seated position next to Sugata.
Sugata: "A competition of amusement? I don't like to be a joker."
Sugata: "I like quick and simple."
Po: "...But there is a karate man wants to take part."
Sugata: "None of my business."
Po: "No matter how."
Sugata: "No way."
Po: "At least please have a look at it. Coming at the American Embassy. I will send you the invitation." The camera has pulled back to reveal Po with his hat and coat now in hand, and the rickshaw boy sitting where Sayo sat previously.
Po: "Storming." He tips his hat, bows and exits the door.
After a pause, the boy says: "I may get you involved. Do they want revenge? Don't go to the Embassy." Cut to close-up on boy, concerned. Cut to Sugata: "I will go. I want to see the fight." Fade to black.
[I have already mentioned that Kurosawa stated for the record that he had no interest in making this sequel. However, his craftsmanship must have certainly been a matter of pride with him. Note how he cuts the following boxing match to emphasize -- in a purely filmic manner, with extreme attention to the timing, or tempo, inherent in the editing process -- Sugata's disgust with the entire event...]
Open on two boxers, prancing around the ring, shot from ring level. Quick cut to a longer shot of the ring, then to the crowd, yelling and cheering. The camera moves back through the crowd, which is entirely made up of foreigners, until we reach the back where a smiling Po is standing next to a frowning Sugata. Cut back to the long shot of the ring.
Cut back to Sugata and Po, who says to Sugata:
"It's not exciting to employ a referee. It should be fighting till collapsed."
The man in front of Sugata rises in excitement. Cut to a close-up of the two boxers swinging it out in a corner...cut to another corner...cut to another low, ring-side viewpoint of the legs...quick cut to an older foreign couple. The woman is smiling; the man moving his head around to catch all the action...another close-up on the boxers. One of them seems to have the upper hand. Several quick cuts: the crowd, the boxers (from a new angle -- the losing boxer has his back to the ropes [and the camera]), close-up on two spectators, the knock-out punch and Sugata and Po's reactions. The man in front of Sugata rises and says: "Get up, fight."
Cut to fighter down on canvas. Camera moves in close. Very quick cut of a bloodied face. Cut to Sugata. The fight fan in front of him moves his head in front of Sugata; Sugata looks at him then returns his gaze towards the defeated fighter. Quick cut to his bloodied face again, as he stirs slightly; quick cut back to Sugata whose gaze is now on
Foreigners, drinking a toast. Back to Sugata, whose gaze returns to the defeated boxer; cut to his body on canvas; back to Sugata, whose gaze changes again, towards
More foreigners, young girls, all cheering...back to Sugata, gaze changes towards fighter again; cut to his bloodied face -- back to Sugata whose gaze is now upon
(cut) a man smoking a cigar; cut to Sugata; cut to the man; back to Sugata whose gaze changes again -- towards the ring where the referee is counting down. He holds up the winner's hand and cut to close-up on winner, jumping up and down, and then back to a long shot on each fighter's handlers gathering around their man...
Cut to the crowd in front of Sugata where all (except Sugata) are cheering and clapping...people begin to sit as the camera pans right to follow Sugata as he begins to leave...
Po: "Where are you going?"
Sugata: "Going home."
"I don't like to see this play."
"The fight between Star and the karate man is about to start."
"Ask them to stop. Stop the fight."
"They are too stupid. Ask the [fighters?] to fight like chicken and dogs...Japanese shouldn't do this..."
Sugata turns his head as a great roar goes up as another boxer enters the ring. He has "Killer" written on the back of his robe. Cut to Sugata and Po. Po, smiling, moves forward towards the ring. Sugata reaches out to touch him, but stops himself. He turns his head to see...
(cut)...a Japanese man meekly entering the ring. The room is filled with laughter and chittering. Cut to Sugata. Cut to the Japanese man in the ring, looking embarrassed. Back to Sugata. He starts to bow his head when his gaze is again captured by...
(cut)...long shot of ring -- the American boxer on the left, Po in the center and the Japanese man on the right. Po is holding his hands up to get the audience's attention.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he actually says in English [subtitles: "Everybody"]..."very glad to see that you liked this fight..."
"Wait," shouts Sugata from the rear. Camera now facing Sugata, behind Po. Po moves towards the ropes of the ring and Sugata, but Sugata waves him off. He approaches the Japanese fighter, bows and smiles. The Japanese man in the ring speaks first:
Sugata: "Stop the fight."
Sugata: "For the Japanese karate."
Man: "I don't think we'll lose."
Sugata: "It's not the problem of winning or losing."
Man: "For what?"
Sugata: (long pause as Sugata looks around the room) "Since boxing is not kung fu, what do you fight for?"
Man: "I am Kwan from Sam Stream. You are?"
Sugata: "Saam Chee of the Station."
Kwan: "I tell you. What do you fight for? We are broke if we don't do this. We have no other choice (quick cut to Sugata -- back on Kwan)...[the main slow-moving "Sugata" theme begins at this point] it may be because of you..."
Hold on Sugata -- staring in disbelief, with only the left side of his face fully lit...
Dissolve to Sugata, from behind, ascending some steps very slowly. When he reaches the two-sided doors, cut to close-up (still from behind) and we see the American flag (one on each door) with the letters U.S.A. printed above. He pushes the doors open and a bell is rung [the "Sugata" theme stops, in favor of loud crowd noise...] ...Sugata's head turns back...
Cut to the fight -- shot from above. The American is holding the Japanese and hits him three times before he falls to the canvas. The Japanese rises, is hit again; rises, is hit again. The American has him against the ropes and begins to deliver a flurry of punches.
Cut to Sugata at the doors. He moves forward (the "Sugata" theme returns). Cut back to the match. The Japanese is still being pummeled. Cut back to Sugata. He moves left to right. Cut back to the ring. It's getting worse. Very quick cut to Sugata where he turns towards the door, as if to leave, then turns back again (Fujita expresses Sugata's anguish very beautifully and subtle here ... like the spectators who so disgust him, he can't look away from the violence in the ring). Above the ring, a short cut shows the Japanese fighter being severely punished -- a short cut, right at ring level, shows it continuing...
Then three short cuts of about one second each of three spectators (two women and a man) laughing...
Cut to Sugata. He finally opens the doors, turns to face the camera, and slams them shut, with the music crashing on a chord as the doors slam shut. A final cadence and...
Fade to black. Open on an untranslated sign. Cut to Shogoro Yano (Denjiro Okochi) preparing tea.
"Master," says Sugata, off-camera. Yano looks up. Cut to Sugata. "I think fighting is a pain."
Cut to side view; Yano on the left, Sugata on the right. "I fight for karate with him. I think only use the skills to win. Of course, the family of the loser, and the followers will hate me. For kung fu, I don't mind. But for winning...see, many are beaten. I really want to forget karate."
Yano: "Finish. Two years experience on travel. That's all."
Cut to Sugata. Cut to Yano. "Nothing has changed. You are still the same." Cut to Sugata, dazed. Cut to new angle, from Sugata's back, Yano in the left of the frame, smoking a cigarette. "I see your pain. No. Your pain is my pain. But I believe...(he takes a puff)...that's necessary for the future."
Up closer on Yano, over Sugata's left shoulder: "Fighting is the way to unite the others. Agreements can't bring true peace. Don't be afraid of the constraints."
The subtitles are pretty confusing.
"Believe karate to be involved in the fight. It's not the fight for the name. That's not my prize. Not your winning, either." Full close-up on Yano. "No. Can be said that's also not the winning for karate. That's the winning for the Japanese Arts."
Then there is an even closer shot on Yano. Some uneven editing follows. Cut to a shot of Sugata, from behind. He's rubbing his head. We hear a quick splotch of dialogue (from Yano?), untranslated. Several more jerky cuts of Sugata from behind follow until we hear a female voice: "Mr. Chee." We see her pursuing Sugata briefly.
Cut to new angle, side view of woman and Sugata. "Haven't you had your dinner? Coming to have it in the Station?"
Sugata: "To eat with you in the kitchen..."
Woman: "100% like a student! I thought the famous Saam Chee must be scary with long beard!" Close on the two now. "Really! My grandchildren are scared! The songs say (singing): 'Saam is coming...'"
Sugata: "Don't sing!"
Woman: "It's not good not to be true. It's because it's too strong. Better to be simpler." She leaves, leaving Sugata rubbing his head again. We hear laughter. Three other Yano pupils approach Sugata. One of them speaks: "It's long time not to see you scratch your head. Haven't seen your beard face for a long time."
Sugata tries to put his hand on the man's shoulder, but the man trips Sugata and he tumbles to the floor. Cut to a group of 10 boys, watching from somewhere. One of them says: "The four men of the Station are here." Sugata remains seated amidst his standing friends. Everyone is laughing. "Good," he says. "Haven't seen you for a long time." Fade to black.
Up on Sayo walking towards the camera, carrying a bucket in one hand and something else in the other. More brilliant Kurosawa: Sayo has walked right up to the camera -- the camera is looking up at her. She sees something which radically changes her facial expression, Cut to a new angle from behind Sayo, shot at leg level where swiftly see the following action:
Sugata is bending over something in left frame, with his back to us and Sayo drops the bucket. Sugata turns around, and we see he also has something in each hand -- flowers and a bucket. The angle changes again -- behind Sugata now, still at leg level...
Now a three-second close-up on Sugata; six seconds on her. Back to Sugata. He bows a short bow. "I am back," he begins. "I'm sorry for your dad. I am coming to see him." Long hold on Sugata, then Sayo, who bows her head...
Cut to a cemetery. Sugata is walking slightly ahead of Sayo with something in his hand from which smoke pours out. They are walking away from the camera. Suddenly, the priest bolts by from the right of the frame, with a rake in his hand. He looks at the couple, scratches his bald head, turns to look at them again, and then saunters out of the left frame, coming towards the camera...
Cut to a room, shot from behind the priest and Sugata. The doors are open to some large white flowers. The priest is smoking a pipe. Sugata leans forward to smell one of the flowers. "You are the same."
Close-up of the two, still from behind. Sugata: "Master also says that. I am useless. I always feel worried."
Priest: "No way." Close-up on Sugata, still from behind. His head is turned towards the priest. Close-up on priest, side view. "I can't even love woman," he begins..."can't do anything to be a chick." Back to Sugata, his head still turned towards the priest. Now he turns it to the right -- the camera is still directly behind him. Hold on the back of his head for several beats, until he moves it to the left again...
The camera pulls far back in the room to reveal a young woman (Sayo?) with a bundle of clothes. She bows. Finally, the priest says, "Regards from Siu. The clothes on your body. It's time to change, take it."
"However," stammers Sugata.
"Take it!" screams the priest...
Sugata is adjusting his new kimono when his fellow pupil enters frame left. "A strange man has come." Cut to the door.
Strange indeed. There are two men. The first looks like a character in a Noh drama. He holds a bamboo branch. The man next to him is doing the talking -- to another Yano pupil. The Yano pupil says: "What's your name?"
"Tin Kuo." [I believe this is Genzaburo Higaki (Akitake Kôno)].
"The other one?"
"Yuen Kuo." [I believe this is Teshin Higaki (Ryunosuke Tsukigata)].
Cut to a room in the house empty. Shot from behind two Yano pupils and Sugata, who enter from the right. A door opens at the rear of the room. Another Yano pupil announces, "Please have a look at the Station. Tin and Yuen Kuo..."
The Kuo's enter, the Yano pupil bows to the others. The Kuo's walk disrespectfully. "Salute before going in," yells the pupil who escorted them in...
"We don't have this kind of salute," says Tin.
The left-most pupil rises in anger: "It may be the rules of foreigners. But here is Japan." "Forget it," says another...
The Kuos move to a wall, with Tin reading some names: "Woo, Chun, Ten, Saam Chee...Is Saam Chee here?" Sugata rises. "He's here." The wild-looking Yuen rushes over to Sugata. Tin moves over, as well.
The next series of shots could perhaps be called "Bergman-esque." Close-up of Yuen and Tin, shot from behind Sugata, forming a perfect geometric pattern. Cut to straight-on shot of Sugata, with Tin in the extreme left of the frame; next a profile of Sugata, with Tin now occupying a large part of the left side of the frame -- Sugata and Tin's noses seem to touch...Yuen moves into the frame, Tin yells at him. Yuen turns towards the camera. The camera follows him from the back as he moves away. He moves back again. He turns away. He moves back. "Yuen," Tin yells. Yuen comes forward again, and now can no longer restrain himself. He moves to the wall and
Extreme close-up: he rips a piece of wood out of the wall. A medium shot head-on now shows him with the piece of wood. He drops it. Everyone rushes towards him, including Tin, who takes a karate stance next to Yuen...
Yano has just walked in. He approaches Tin. "I am Chin. It's karate." Cut to Yuen and Tin against the wooden wall.
"Tin Kuo of Kuo Karate. He's Yuen. Please forgive my brother who broke the wall, since he's sick." Cut to Yano and Sugata.
"Is Chee Kuo your relative?" The camera pans to the left.
Tin: "My older brother is too weak."
Yano: "His karate, I think it's too strong."
Tin: "Why? But he lost to Chee. But my karate is very different. Have you seen karate?"
Yano, laughing: "Your brother just showed us!"
Tin: "That's a joke! To warm up! I want to fight with Chee. That's why I come here."
Yano: "Sorry, we cannot accept."
Yano: "We are different. I think your karate is not an art. No salute before coming in the Station. No salute when seeing a man. This kind of a man isn't an artist at any time."
Tin: (laughing)"...you really can talk!" He walks over to face Sugata. He fills the left side of the frame, Sugata the right, with Yano in the middle, and one of the pupils in the background...
Tin is staring at Sugata, but obviously still addressing Yano. "Will you accept if he agrees?"
Yano: "Too stupid."
Yano: "He is my student. We have the same spirit."
Tin: "The Station is so weak! Let's go Yuen." He turns to leave. Close-up on the branch. Yuen picks it up. They leave in the midst of a sharp spot of sunlight which is coming into the room. "Chin, we won't forget it. Chee is brave. He loves playing lives." He leaves laughing. Sugata begins to chase after him.
Yano: "Angry? Those who are impolite are the most frightening." He turns to leave, his students bowing. There is a sign above the door he exits.
Cut to Japanese writing on this sign. Subtitles:
"Who have a fight with him will be kicked out. Who have a show in the public will be kicked out. Who have a drink or sing in the Station will be kicked out."
Cut to Sugata sitting front right of frame. A Yano student enters from the left rear. "How about you?" he asks Sugata, rubbing his head...
"I can't stand it." He pours himself a drink. And another.
"Are you okay," asks his friend.
"I can't sleep if I don't do this," replies Sugata.
"Why?" Sugata pours another drink. He doesn't drink it. He turns to face his friend. "Why do I have so many enemies?"
Friend: "Because I am too good. Hate makes people weak."
Sugata: "I used to hate but I don't now. Just..."
Sugata: "Don't want to hate -- just have a fight."
Friend: "Are you thinking of karate?"
Sugata: "Not just that..."
Yano suddenly appears at the door. "Not fall asleep yet?" He bows. "The moon is good." He walks into the room.
Cut to the friend and Sugata, the saké jug lying on its side in front of them. Yano walks by them (shot at leg level). The friend quickly grabs the saké cup and hides it behind himself. He appears ready to go for the jug, when Yano, who has been standing at a window, turns and says, "I have thought so many things in teaching. I want to fix some skills. (He walks right by the jug). I want to start from tomorrow. Please help. The Skills Ng are finished [I'm sure Ng does not mean "news group" -- but I'm certain that's what the subtitle says...] (He is now staring at the jug.) It must match the theories. (He picks up the jug and sets it down upright.) Like the foot techniques...the front skills..." (and he whips the jug forward). Cut to friend and Sugata tensing with anticipation.
Yano has placed the jug upright on the floor again. "The side skills..." (and again he whips the jug towards the side). Cut to a tense friend and Sugata. Back to Yano: "The knee skills..." Another flip. Sugata close-up, eyes shut tight. "The kicking skills..." He kicks the jug up. Cut to Sugata eyes shut even tighter. "Kicking more the outside." Sugata, head turned. "Kicking less the outside..." Cut to Sugata, head turned in the opposite direction. "Kicking less the inside..." Cut to Sugata, head turned the other way again..."Hit the hip..." Sugata winces..."Jump the hip..." He winces and lower his head. "Hit the foot." One more excruciating close-up of Sugata, lowering his head in dread...
Suddenly the camera moves back -- Yano is on the left of the frame, but back and Sugata and friend sit directly in front of the camera to the right. "Sleep. Good night," Yano says as he exits the room. Sugata remains still, head bowed, but the other pupil is staring after Yano in disbelief. Sugata's arms drop and the angle changes to high above, a bright light in the left foreground, the two men in the right rear of the frame. Fade to black.
Fade up on a rickshaw, sitting next to some open doors. Cut to the rickshaw boy. The camera pulls back to reveal a table and then Sugata, so when the camera is pulled back the table is in the center of the frame, with the boy and Sugata on the left and right, respectively...
Sugata: "Really want to learn?"
Boy: "I want to learn karate." Sugata takes a bundle off the wall and hands it to the boy.
Sugata: "Change the clothes and I'll teach you." Pause. "It's painful..."
And so Kurosawa shows us just how painful. The boy is thrown by Sugata no less than 14 times (many throws shown very close, with a slightly fuzzy focus, at times) before we see Sugata flip him completely over. Sugata then puts the boy on his back and carries him away.
Sugata: "How, still want to learn?"
Boy: "I want to near karate." His eyes close and he faints away...
Cut to a row of vertical wooden signs hanging on hooks -- a sweep pan to the left stops on the first empty hook, on which a new sign is being placed. There is no translation nor hint of what is written on these signs. I believe they are probably like nameplates, with the names of all the pupils. Another magical Kurosawa sequence in a film he supposedly cared nothing about:
Cut to the boy, in a room, facing camera, bowing politely (before a match?). As he rises from his bow, another image of the boy enters the room (it is the same boy), as the first boy dissolves and the second repeats the action. The third dissolves as before, and bows as before. However, one can begin to detect very slight differences in each version of the boy. By this third version, he seems a bit more cocky in his walk, a bit more confident in his bows!
The fourth version of the boy walks in much slower, tugs at his kimono belt, and sits. He picks up something in front of him and tosses it to his right; something else to his left; and then faces the camera. He bows.
Another sign is hung on a nail and a sweep pan to the right lands on the sign where the previous pan started (I think).
Cut to a view, high above the alley, and shot from behind bare tree branches, where the boy is pulling his rickshaw and singing a song to the same melody as the "Sugata" song heard in Sugata I...
"Mr. Driver -- how much to Lui? Cheaper for 25 cents. Reduced to 3 cents..." He suddenly puts down his rickshaw and runs towards something. "How?" Someone is lying on the ground. "Aren't you Tin?"
[Now I am more confused. This is certainly not Tin Kuo lying on the ground, as he appears perfectly healthy in the scene after the next one. So is this a Station man named Tin?]
Cut to the Station group, 13 people in a circle with the injured man in the middle. The injured man seems to be speaking:
"Their target is us. If we say we are from the Station, then..."
Pupil to the left of Sugata: "Bastard. They use karate?"
Injured man: "No."