New Documentry Sumodo dives into the Dynamics of Sumo

Sumo is a historic sport that now thrives in a contemporary media age. Public broadcaster NHK airs sumo’s six annual tournaments nationwide, whereas providing English-speaking followers entry to the bouts through its reside bilingual broadcasts and applications on its NHK World service. (Disclosure: I’ve been a commentator on the bilingual match broadcasts since their debut in 1992.)

Even so, non-NHK administrators and producers with sumo-themed tasks have lengthy confronted a formidable wall within the type of the Nihon Sumo Kyokai, the physique that governs the skilled sport. The permissions required by the Kyokai to movie inside the world or interview particular person wrestlers have lengthy been hard-to-impossible to return by, as I do know from private expertise. However the makers of “Sumodo: The Successors of Samurai,” a characteristic documentary that opens in Japan beginning Oct. 30, managed this feat, successful the cooperation of not solely the Kyokai but in addition, the Sakaigawa and Takadagawa stables, the place director Eiji Sakata and his crew filmed for about six months, conducting in-depth interviews with the stables’ oyakata (coaches) and rikishi (wrestlers).

The result’s an inside have a look at sumo of the type not often seen on the NHK broadcasts, the place reporters sometimes ask wrestlers the identical questions and get the identical solutions many times. (Query: “How do you’re feeling about successful this large bout?” Reply: “I’m blissful.”) “The Kyokai was actually powerful,” says Sakata, a veteran director of selection exhibits for the TBS community. “There haven’t been any earlier examples. We’re the primary sumo documentary to make use of the Ryogoku Kokugikan sumo area as our stage. However, as soon as the Kyokai gave us permission, they had been extraordinarily cooperative.”

Sakata cleared the Kyokai hurdle with assistance from Junya Kototsurugi, a former wrestler who now works as a manga artist and maintains in-depth contacts within the sumo world. “He makes items with the Kyokai’s approval and sells them on the Kokugikan,” Sakata explains. “He approached folks he is aware of there and laid the groundwork for us.” (Kototsurugi additionally seems within the movie, however as an interviewee, not a fixer.)

Out of the 44 sumo stables presently in existence, Sakata selected to concentrate on the Sakaigawa steady because it is likely one of the extra profitable ones. When filming for the documentary started in late-2018, Sakaigawa’s prime wrestler was Goeido — an ozeki, sumo’s second-highest rank. The steady additionally had two maegashira, rank-and-file wrestlers within the prime division, Sadanoumi and Myogiryu. “Sagaikawa is strict,” says Sakata. “The message within the air is ‘put that digicam away.’ It’s sort of tense and scary.” However, the unfriendly environment made Sakata wish tomovie there all of the extras.

I believed I may make one thing nobody had ever seen earlier than,” he explains. “The wrestlers seemed unapproachable, so it was motivating to attempt to shoot them up shut.” On the prime of the “unapproachable” record was the now-retired Goeido, a close-mouthed stoic who Kototsurugi describes as a “samurai.” “In case you don’t endure hardships you by no means turn intosturdy,” Goeido tells Sakata early on. True to his phrase, when Sakata was filming him previous to the January 2019 match, Goeido was scuffling with an injured bicep however refused to make use of a supporter. “I’m afraid to disclose my weak level to opponents,” he says.

Goeido couldn’t conceal his lack of energy, nevertheless, and 4 days into the match, was nonetheless winless. Then, stunningly, he got here from behind to complete with a 9-6 document. “I believed it was throughout for me,” he confesses to Sakata halfway via the match. “Nevertheless it’s OK to lose for those who give it your entire effort.” With that, the stoic reveals a human facet. Sakata’s different interviewees on the steady are much more forthcoming. Myogiryu, who went to the identical high school at Goeido and joined the identical sumo membership there, smilingly describes skilled sumo as “being in a site visitors accident day by day.” To maintain from changing into roadkill, he flips an enormous truck tire down a subject and lifts weights to develop tree-trunk-like thighs that Sakata shoots in close-up.

Additionally, Sadanoumi, whose father was a top-division wrestler within the 1980s, grew up within the sumo world and thought he would observe in his father’s footsteps to Dewanoumi Steady. ”However Dad advised me that, if I wished to construct character, I ought to go to Sakaigawa,” he says. Sadanoumi reveals one thing of that character when he splits his brow open banging heads with an opponent in a match bout and refuses to get stitches. “It doesn’t hassle me a lot,” he shrugs, explaining that he has cut up his pores and skin, not his cranium. Goeido, we see, is just not the one stoic.

Sakata bought near the steady’s wrestlers, even treating them to an all-you-can-eat yakiniku (grilled beef) meal that price him ¥800,000. (His expression when he sees the invoice is likely one of the movie’s comedic highlights.) However, he didn’t wish to confine his movie to Sakaigawa, which is why he additionally focuses on the Takadagawa Steady. One attraction was the oyakata who wrestled beneath the identify Akinoshima, however, is now referred to as Takadagawa.

“He mentioned issues that actually impressed me,” Sakata explains. Articulate and frank, Takadagawa admits that the brutal coaching regime as soon as commonplace at his steady, as at many different stables, needed to change. “At this time it could be energy harassment,” he says. As a substitute for issuing instructions and admonishments from the sidelines, as many different coaches do, Takedagawa places on a mawashi (sumo belt) and will get down within the ring along with his wrestlers. “It’s a must to practice with them or they received’t observe you,” he explains.

One of many steady’s highest-ranking wrestlers is Ryuden, who’s pleasant, open, and enjoys fun. However, he additionally made a miraculous comeback after injuring his hip and falling to the second-lowest jonidan division. “I really like sumo,” he says, “I noticed that after my comeback.” “Once you speak to Ryuden, you understand he’s fully completely different from (the wrestlers) at Sakaigawa,” says Sakata. “Sumo is like that — it’s not only one factor. A {news} merchandise seems about one thing scandalous one steady did and the media covers it as if all stables do it. In this movie, I wished to point out that that’s not the case. That there are wrestlers who’re doing the best factor.”

Another excuse for making the movie, Sakata provides, is to “overturn stereotypes in regards to the wrestlers.” One is that they’re males of few phrases. “Ryuden is just not like that — he loves to speak,” Sakata says. “He was attention-grabbing to me for that motive — he’s completely not the picture folks have of sumo wrestlers.” One other stereotype shattered within the movie is that the wrestlers are fats males posing as athletes. “There’s the muscle beneath that fats,” says Sakata. “Persons are usually not conscious of how a lot of weight coaching (the wrestlers) do.” Thus the scenes of Myogiryu pumping iron.

“As a Japanese, I wished to do one thing for Japan on this 12 months of the Olympics — and I believed one of the simplest ways was sumo,” Sakata continues. “Japanese watch sumo, however, there are loads of issues they don’t know. And non-Japanese simply equate sumo with fats guys who die younger. I would like folks all over the world to know that these wrestlers are supermen.”

Jason Kale
Jason is 28-year-old father, husband, and tech enthusiast. Jason covers everything from Geek news to tech world news. In he spare time, if he isn’t asleep, you can find him binge-watching his favorite podcast. Email:[email protected]