Monday, December 21, 2009


Original Title: Ika resuraa
Year: 2004
Director: Minoru Kawasaki
Writer: Minoru Kawasaki, Masakazu Migita
Genre: Comedy

By the same director from Crab Goalkeeper and Executive Koala Minoru Kawasaki, this surreal plot revolves around a professional wrestler who, after developing cancer, becomes a giant squid-like creature. While he finds some success in the ring, he craves respect outside it.

Well, this review is a long time coming it seems. I haven't gotten off my ass in a week now. I know all of you were held over well with the Rikidozan matches I posted here, yeah? So instead of a tearful visit to an unloved blog, you instead get a tearful blurry match or two from the 1950s. So yay me!

So where was I? I'm getting distracted easily lately. Oh, yes, Calamari Wrestler.

What an oddball fucking movie this was. But never trying to be something it is not, it came across fairly well.

Here we have an obviously rubber suited squid (Osamu Nishimura) who may or may not be a strange reincarnation of a former national pro-wresting hero Kanichi Iwata, who steals a belt from another wrestler Koji Taguchi (Akira). Koji is being pushed by the wrestling promoters to be the next savior of professional wrestling in Japan... to bring it back to the forefront. But the squid wants a title shot and respect of the promoters as well as love of the fans.

Kana Ishida plays the love interest of the film. Yep, that's all she gets. She is that lame.

Osamu Nishimura is a pro-wrestler in reality, and I believe Akira must be also. The acting is goddamn hideous. But that's OK, we're not here for that.

We're not here for the direction and storytelling either I suppose. Although, the construction of the film is what keeps it from being a failure. Calamari Wrestler knows that it is a budget-restricted silly mess of a film. I have seen Japanese television programs better produced than this. But Minoru Kawasaki takes what little is is given here and creates a sarcastic, funny, and intentionally cheap production.

Kawasaki doesn't try to hide the fact that the squid is just a guy in a rubber suit. He doesn't try to hide the fact that the wrestling matches have no audience, as we get panned out shots of action figures falling over in a miniature ring surrounded by a stationary audience. Because of this, the stiff performances by essentially the entire cast in a way fit in to it all.

It's interesting that I came across this film to review when I did - I put it here because it is actually related to Rikidozan. There is a legendary man often referred to in the film as Godozan, who is obviously supposed to be Rikidozan. In Rikidozan, the Korean becomes a national hero by defeating Americans in the wrestling ring at a time when national pride in Japan was exceedingly low. In Calamari Wrestler, Kawasaki not only gives a thinly veiled critique of the economy and corporate climate of modern day Japan, but also humorously presents another outsider who's "destiny" in the ring becomes a matter of morale and pride in Japan as they are so low once again.

I could reveal some plot points foe the sake of a longer review, but honestly they aren't really worth it. The film broke down a little for me when they start explaining the origins of the squid and such. The love story that develops is good for some laughs, but that's about it. And the ending I can best describe as being very Japanese in its feel. See the film and you'll know what I mean here.

A review I read on Coffee, Coffee, and More Coffee had this to say that I thought was a nice point
Kawasaki's films are about outsiders whose sense of integrity is challenged establishment characters with greater financial or political power. A Kawasaski hero is incapable of compromise or being untruthful. Even if some of the more distinctly Japanese aspects of Kawasaki's films are not fully understood by western viewers, one has to love a film where the most unlikely protagonists achieve victory in spite of overwhelming odds.
Ultimately what we have plot-wise is nothing outstanding. But as I said, this is the sort of production where the director is obviously aware of his limitations and goes with it. For what it is, it is well done, and that's what made this entertaining.

A film with heart and a nice sense of self-awareness, Calamari Wrestler is worth a watch I would say. It is obviously nothing inspiring to me personally as it took a fucking week and a half to review it, but I'm glad I saw it. I'll definitely be tracking down more of Kawasaki's work.

Score: 6 / 10

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