never won an Olympic medal, but he probably inspired many Japanese wrestlers
who did. Unfortunately, they may not
have the chance to win more anytime soon, since the IOC decided to drop the sport
from the upcoming games. (Many suspect corruption, since the IOC is the IOC.) The
man who popularized western-style wrestling (meaning non-sumo) in Japan became
a national hero, but he was actually Korean.
His eventful life is dramatized in screenwriter-director Song Hae-sung’s
Rikidozan: A Hero Extraordinaire (trailer here), available on DVD
from Pathfinder Entertainment.
he was Rikidozan, he was born Kim Sin-rak in Korea and assumed the name Mitsuhiro
Momota when he pursued a sumo career.
However, he was never compatible with the sport’s rigid hierarchy. Thanks to a reluctant patron, he trained in
America, where he played the villain in the ring. Of course, to the Japanese fans following his
career in the press, he is the hero.
Returning to Japan, Rikidozan lays a beatdown on the American champion,
becoming a national celebrity and firmly establishing western wrestling with
Japanese sports fans.
might wonder: gee, isn’t “western” wrestling fake? As it happens, rumors of scripted bouts dog
Rikidozan, who handles them rather badly.
Yet, in his defense, he also tends to win matches he is supposed to
throw. Basically, Rikidozan excels at
ticking people off and making bad decisions.
Unfortunately, he also neglects his long suffering wife Aya.
Kyung-gu is a strong likeness for the real life Rikidozan, bringing a beefy physicality
to the role. He looks like he really
could dispense the odd body slam if called upon. If he is the beast, Miki Nakatani is the
beauty. Heartrending yet exquisitely
dignified, her sensitive performance as Aya is not that far removed from her
devastating work in Tetsuya Nakashima’s Memories of Matsuko.
It might be faint praise, but Rikidozan could possibly be the best
wrestling movie ever. Although the
subtitle assures us he is a hero, it is hard to like the grappling
protagonist. Nonetheless, Song makes it
clear his self-destructive caddishness is always rooted in his Korean
transplant inferiority complex. Oddly,
his bio-picture somewhat compliments Studio Ghibli’s From Up on Poppy Hill, addressing issues of Japanese national
esteem during roughly the same time period.
Recommended for sports movie fans, Rikidozan
is available for home viewing from Pathfinder Entertainment.
Labels: DVD, Rikidozan, Sports films