For a director's first movie, this is impressive and showed that Kurosawa had an eye. Sadly, this movie is rather rote because it is by-the-numbers by today's standards. I wonder if the full (now lost) version would have made it somewhat better than what exists today. If you are going to go through Kurosawa's filmography, best to save this one near the end of your marathon as there are so many better films.
All the Kurosawa ingredients are here in embryonic form: the moral fibre of a strong-willed individual versus social disintegration, the unsurpassed command over natural elements, the discipline behind excellence and the blossoming of character. The ritual of education achieves resonance in the juxtaposition of the impeccable judogi of the aged Murai versus Sanshiro's torn one. A remarkable debut!
I's a nice little film that hints at what is to come. The that really stuck out to me is the time lapse effect that was done with the shoes. A clever simple idea that is executed wonderfully. It is scenes like this that tell what Kurosawa's basic film language will become. The ending fight is a nice use of elements that Kurosawa is the best at.
"But your judo and my judo are worlds apart. Do you know why? Because you don't understand humanity." I am convinced that, had the original cut been preserved, this would be considered a masterpiece. Despite flaws, he lays the foundation for a plethora of genres. The tracking and crane shots are later transcribed by Leone & the characters by Tarentino. Filmed with conviction and yet a WISE film. This was a DEBUT?!
While there is no swordfighting, the film does feel like an early version of one of his later samurai films. It's amazing to see how much of his later style is all here -- the action sequences are exhilarating; his use of natural elements is masterful (especially in the time-lapsed clouds), and the film's finale: a fight atop a mountain top in amidst windswept grasses -- is extraordinary.
Rain falling on structures and nature as it collects on a closed umbrella. The silence before a match, and the calm before grappling. The way a camera moves over its subjects during combat as if it was the martial art itself. The melancholy inside every throw, the kind known better as experience. A belief that people can learn and change, that a wall is just a wall and you can move past it.