I’ve seen a few spots where this is ranked as Kurosawa’s weakest film in his body of work and I don’t see it- in his debut here I think there is plenty of promise
A nice opening tracking shot through the town
From the beginning- the wipe edit!- the auteur most associated with the editing choice (and of course the inspiration for Lucas’ Star Wars choice of the cut transition
A very nice tracking shot again—this time surveying the arrangement of men in a confrontation early in the film—Kurosawa has a preternatural ability here- blocking and arrangement of figures in the frame
Shoots a figure in the background and rolls the camera over the shoulder his opponent in the foreground
The lighting is a struggle in a few scenes—but he does fix it in the next sequence with some striking lanterns that are much stronger
Mentor/mentee—old wise master, and brash young protégé—a theme early on for Kurosawa- discussions of honor, humanity
So there is actually a slow-motion (Kurosawa as important as it gets as an auteur talking about the stylistic history of the slow-motion shot)—the window falling on the head here at 37 minutes after our title character throws him into the wall
There’s a chunk of the film missing- titles telling us of the battle- too bad – further reading – it looks like about 15-17 minutes were chopped and never found again
Montage of the two characters following in love with upward wipes – a nice scene
At 51 minutes- again moving the camera around the head of his character- not a full 360 degree shot- but still impressive
Slow-motion fighting epic battle- blurred camera focus to simulate Sugata being knocked woozy
The field epic battle during a storm—gorgeous composition of the two battling in the foreground with the referee in eh background
Thrilled that you’re embarking on this study! Even though I’m about to begin the 10th of mine I’m sure you’ll pass me in short order as I’m lucky to be able to get in 1 screening in a day during this time. I began my study with a Mifune focus so I began at Drunken Angel (1948) but I’m eager to go back to the beginning once this initial study is complete and I’ll comment further then I’m sure.
@Matt Harris– Nice– I’m excited as well. Some of these are short and I’m also doing a Aki Kaurismäki study (who makes really short films) so I’ve been able to fly through the first 5. I’ll settle into a normal pace here and probably get to 1-2 a week- Kurosawa’s films get longer, too.
So after finishing the Mifune/Kurosawa films (still intend to check out a few non-Kurosawa Mifune films) I doubled back to the beginning and watched this one. I quite agree, that this is a work that shows a lot of promise for the legendary director that is to come. The signature role the with plays in the climactic encounter certainly establishes that my theory about Kurosawa “master of the elements” was at play from the very start!
A shame about the missing footage. I’ll be curious to see your thoughts on The Idiot when you get to it. Apparently Kurosawa intended it as a 4 hour epic but the studio cut 100 minutes from it. I read that late in life he spent many hours searching through the studio’s vaults looking for the cut footage, but unfortunately it had been lost.
@Matt Harris- thanks for sharing. Talent and creativity right from the start. Yes- quite right about the elements, played a major role in several of the films and i’m still only in 1950. I’m prepping for The Idiot now. Thought about it a little when we were talking about Aster’s intention to do a four hour epic with all the clout he has now (though probably nowhere near the clout Kurosawa has after Rashomon).
*That should have said “The signature role the *wind* plays…”
Perhaps the greatest Kurosawa movie (according to Ebert and I) doesnt feature Mifune. What is the best performance is a Kurosawa movie for you?
For me: 1) shimura in Ikiru
2) Mifune in High and Low
3) Mifune in Seven Samurai
4)Mifune in Rashomon.
Shimura is definitely the other great Kurosawa actor. In 1954 after the release of Seven Samurai, it arguably could have been considered a toss-up between the two of them. He is wonderful in the lead role of Drunken Angel (even if Mifune is a scene stealer in support), he is fantastic in a major supporting role as Mifune’s mentor in Stray Dog, he has near to equal billing with Mifune in both The Quiet Duel and Scandal, he has a major supporting part and is terrific in Rashomon, and though he gets lost in The Idiot, he is brilliant as the lead in Ikiru (without Mifune), and then again in the co-leading role in Seven Samurai. And while we’re at it, he has a lovely supporting part in Sanshiro Sugata (again without Mifune).
It’s really the next decade (1955-1965) where he gets left in the dust. He has significant supporting roles in Record of a Living Being (I Live in Fear) and The Bad Sleep Well, but he is absent from The Lower Depths entirely, and has blink and you might miss him cameos in Throne of Blood, The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, High and Low, and Red Beard. Meanwhile, Mifune tears up the screen in every single one of those films, even the couple (Hidden Fortress and Red Beard) where he’s not the sole lead, putting a bow on the best 16 year run for any actor in history.
As for the very best performance in a Kurosawa film? In the non-Mifune division it’s Shimura in Ikiru (which I can’t wait to return to) and Seven Samurai, Isuzu Yamada in Throne of Blood, Yuzo Kayama in Red Beard, and Tatsuya Nakadai and Meiko Harada in Ran (pending initial and repeat viewings of a few of the others). And then take your pick of Mifune from 1950-1965, honestly I probably lean on Rashoman, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, High and Low, and Red Beard as the top 5… but I could be talked into any of a number of the other films from that period… or hell Drunken Angel and Stray Dog too from outside of it. It is just a peerless stretch for an actor.
@Azman and Matt Harris—
Good work here. I’ll chime back in I finish the study. Through where I am right now it is clearly Mifune in Rashomon. You can’t take your eyes off him.
[…] Sanshiro Sugata – Kurosawa […]