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Sanshiro Sugata
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Produced by Keiji Matsuzaki
Written by Akira Kurosawa
Tomita Tsuneo
Starring Denjirō Ōkōchi
Susumu Fujita
Yukiko Todoroki
Takashi Shimura
Music by Seiichi Suzuki
Cinematography Akira Mimura
Distributed by Toho Company Ltd.
Release date(s) March 25, 1943
Running time 97 minutes
Country Japan
Language Japanese
Followed by Sanshiro Sugata Part II

Sanshiro Sugata (姿三四郎 Sugata Sanshirō?, aka Judo Saga) was the directorial debut of the Oscar-winning Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa. It was first released in Japan on 25 March 1943 by Toho film studios, eventually being released in the United States on 28 April 1974 and is based on the novel of the same name by Tsuneo Tomita. It follows the story of Sanshiro, a strong stubborn youth, who travels into the city in order to learn Jujutsu. However, upon his arrival he discovers a new form of self-defence: Judo. The main character is based on Shiro Saigo, a legendary judoka.[1].

The film is seen as an early example of Kurosawa's immediate grasp of the film-making process, and includes many of his directorial trademarks, such as the use of wipes, weather patterns as reflections of character moods, and abruptly changing camera speeds. The film itself was quite influential at the time, and has been remade on no less than five occasions. It spawned a sequel, Sanshiro Sugata Part II, which was released in 1945 and also directed by Kurosawa.



Following 5 years of second unit director work on films such as Uma and Roppa's Honeymoon, Kurosawa was finally given the go-ahead to direct his first film, even though he himself claimed that, in films like Uma, "I had been so much in charge of production I had felt like the director". After hearing of a new novel from the writer Tomita Tsuneo, Kurosawa decided the project was for him and asked film producer Iwao Mori to buy the rights for him. According to renowned Kurosawa scholar Donald Richie, the reason Kurosawa was allowed to direct the film was because he had had two film scripts printed, including one of which had won the education minister's prize. However, his work was too far away from the government requirements for a wartime film. Tomita's novel, on the other hand, was considered "safe", dealing, as it did, with a Japanese subject such as the rivalry between judo and jujitsu, was a period piece, and was a popularist subject. Kurosawa deliberately went out to make a "movie-like movie", as he knew he would not be able to insert any particularly didactic qualities in the film.


The central theme of the film is the education and initiation of Sugata and the way in which, whilst learning the ways of Judo, he also learns about himself. The film's central scene concerning this theme is when, after being accosted by Yano for getting involved in a streetfight, Sugata leaps into the cold waters near Yano's temple and stays there in order to show his master his dedication, and the fact that he is neither afraid to live nor to die.


Susumu Fujita as Sanshiro Sugata
Denjirô Ôkôchi… Shogoro Yano
Susumu Fujita… Sanshiro Sugata
Yukiko Todoroki… Sayo Murai
Ryunosuke Tsukigata… Gennosuke Higaki
Takashi Shimura… Hansuke Murai
Ranko Hanai… Osumi Kodana
Sugisaku Aoyama… Tsunetami Iimura
Ichirô Sugai… Police Chief Mishima
Yoshio Kosugi… Master Saburo Kodama
Kokuten Kodo… Buddhist Priest
Michisaburo Segawa… Wada
Akitake Kôno… Yoshima Dan
Shôji Kiyokawa… Yujiro Toda
Kunio Mita… Kohei Tsuzaki
Akira Nakamura… Toranosuki Niiseki
Eisaburo Sakauchi… Nemeto
Hajime Hikari… Torakichi


Sanshiro Sugata has been remade five times since it was initially released, although these versions are even harder to find in the west than the original. The 1955 and 1965 versions share the script of the original versions, whereas the subsequent three releases are all based on the novel rather than Kurosawa's screenplay.

  • Sugata Sanshiro (1955) - Directed by Shigeo Tanaka
  • Sugata Sanshiro (1965) - Directed by Seiichiro Uchikawa
  • Ninkyô yawara ichidai [A Brave Generous Era] (1966) - Directed by Sadao Nakajima
  • Sugata Sanshiro (1970) - Directed by Kunio Watanabe
  • Sugata Sanshiro (1977) - Directed by Kihachi Okamoto


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