The plot: Sugata returns to prove his judo mastery in a match against Western opponents.
It’s convenient to talk about this film now, though another was made before it. It’s also probably the worst film Kurosawa ever made, at least as far as all the other ones I have seen.
Donald Richie in his book on the films of Kurosawa, makes an excellent observation: it is Sanshiro Sugata if it had been directed by a lesser director. Indeed, the story, the structure and even the succession of the events is almost identical. To cut a long story short, Kurosawa had absolutely no interest in making this film, and understandably wanted to get it out of the way as quickly as possible. At the same time, it is by all means a sequel to the earlier film, and even has a number of references that link the two together.
The titular hero, already less interesting as a character than his villains, is far too righteous and boring. The closest he comes to disobeying the kindness of his heart is when he drinks in his dojo, which apparently is something that can get him expelled.
It’s hard to escape the propagandist message of the film. Sanshiro Sugata Part II opens up with the Japanese hero kicking a belligerent U.S. Navy bully’s ass. Also, one of the main aspects of the film is Sanshiro’s fight for the honour of the Japanese martial arts, against the exhibitionist and sinful ways of the American boxers. It’s like Rocky IV, in a way, without the groovy soundtrack and the sexy training montage sequences.
There’s no point in carrying on about this movie, except to mention its redeeming factor, a leak of influence from the Soviet silent cinema montages of Pudovkin, that come to the fore in a film that is otherwise technically and stylistically way more inferior than its predecessor.