The Calamari WrestlerMinoru KawasakiJapaneseMiho Shiraishi
The Calamari Wrestler
Medium: film
Year: 2004
Director: Minoru Kawasaki
Writer: Minoru Kawasaki, Masakazu Migita
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Keywords: comedy, Minoru Kawasaki animal protagonist
Actor: Kana Ishida, Osamu Nishimura, Miho Shiraishi, Yoshihiro Takayama
Format: 95 minutes
Website category: Japanese SF
Review date: 14 July 2010
It's another Minoru Kawasaki surrealist comedy! Do we have a protagonist in a stupid animal costume? You bet your boots we do! He's a squid. A really big squid. Incidentally I don't believe I've ever used the word "calamari" and personally I'd just translate the original Japanese title as "squid wrestler".
First things first - the squid costume. This isn't the kind of film where story or performance is particularly important. Minoru's an absurdist who I'm convinced is paying homage to those old kaijuu movies in a modern context, by having a silly cliched story with indifferent acting... and a squid. You're watching for the squid. Obviously they wanted him to look ridiculous, in which case we can safely say "mission accomplished". He's about nine foot tall, with huge googly eyes and lots of tentacles, the same two of which are always controlled by the actor's arms. Most of this is actually pretty cool and fun to look at, but there's a credibility gap when it comes to the legs. You can clearly see the actor's lower half, especially when the squid bends over. You might be wondering what they do to camouflage this awkward anatomical fact and the answer is: big boots.
Oh, just Google him. You'll see what I mean.
I'm not wild about the film in general, but the squid is awesome. He's clearly more entertaining to look at than the Koala Executive, although the koala had funnier reaction shots. I think I burst out laughing the first few times the squid showed up in a scene, just because he's so daft to look at. There's something particularly special about a squid meditating in a Buddhist temple, by the way. After a while I assumed I'd got inured and he was just the hero of the movie, but then came the training montage.
Apart from that, the film's not particularly interesting.
In fairness, it's not trying to be a proper movie. The squid is a bit of a giveaway there. Instead it's the kind of movie-watching experience you get when watching something in black-and-white starring Godzilla and Mothra, except that Minoru thinks it's funnier to do it as a wrestling movie. No one's destroying Tokyo. Squid Wrestler is actually the reincarnation of the wrestling legend Kan-Ichi Iwata, returned to life so that he can fight once again in the ring. In the old days he could always beat his rival Koji Taguchi, but what will happen now? Furthermore the situation is complicated by Miyako, former lover of Iwata and current fiancee of Taguchi. Who will she choose? Who will win in the ring? Can a man fight a squid? Watch this film and find out! It's all on that level, really. There are a couple of silly plot twists and a mildly goofy finale, but basically it's cheap nonsense.
It's doing the wrestling properly, mind you. Minoru is giving the impression of someone who really cares about wrestling and understands its history, as is brought out by the scene where two managers have a profound argument about the philosophy and soul of the sport. That was a good bit, actually. There are actually some serious issues being discussed here, with strong arguments being put in favour of right-wing conservatism on the one hand and on the other social equality and the freedom for anyone to be what they want, regardless of race. It's just that Minoru's sneaking it in under the cover of a comedy squid movie. Anyway, I appreciate the fact that the film is really engaging with the sport and its historical significance during the post-war period. Japan's famous for its wrestling, by the way, which differs from America and Mexico's in being presented as a proper combat sport with martial arts and submission holds. Many Japanese wrestlers come from a proper martial arts background.
I like the fact that this film's wrestlers are played by real wrestlers. Yoshihiro Takayama in particular is so huge that it's unthinkable that the guy could be anything else, although he's only playing himself in a cameo. For the most part they're even surprisingly competent as actors, with Akira as Koji Taguchi in particular managing to find some feeling and honesty. For me, the film briefly had emotional truth in the awkward reconciliation between the two enemies, Taguchi and the Squid Wrestler. All that and big muscles too. I wouldn't be surprised to see him acting in other films. Anyway, the wrestlers are certainly better than Kana Ishida as the Girlfriend, who's probably the worst cast member and normally works in TV rather than movies. No surprises there. She's cute, yes, but she's got stupid dyed hair and doesn't leave any emotional mark on the movie.
Would I recommend this film? Not in a hurry. It's okay. It's only got one joke, although it's a pretty good one, and the whole point is that the rest of the film is only okay. You might be surprised at the idea of a woman having sex with a squid, but it's done tastefully and much more important is the fact that we get a romantic Squid-Girlfriend embrace at sunset to the accompaniment of musical cliches. It's that kind of film. I sort of liked it and it's more memorable than you'd think, but I'm still waiting for one of these Minoru Kawasaki animal protagonist films to be as funny as you'd expect. It's definitely odd, though.