I’ve been getting videotapes from Japan since the 1980’s. Before the internet, it wasn’t always so easy. You had to have a connection or you’d spend tons of money. And you’d never be sure what you’d get.
One of my friends used to rent tapes from the Japanese grocery store and you had to try and learn the kanji to know what tapes were what. Often, they’d just be six-hour compilations of whatever wrestling-related things were on TV, including game shows, made before the days of Tokyo’s 24 hour a day Samurai TV.
Between that and the old Death Valley Driver message board, we discovered a group called Doglegs, which features physically challenged performers wrestling. In Japan, there are school fan clubs that go so far to run their own shows in the same arenas as professional groups, which would be like your American Legion team playing Yankee Stadium. Doglegs ran several of their own shows and became somewhat legendary for a time amongst the nascent internet hardcore wrestling fans.
Much like the Kids of Widney High, there are two groups of people interested in their story: those that want to gawk and those that realize that these are people overcoming what some see as limitations and battling to create meaning and art. I’m a member of the latter group and was shocked to find that this documentary was now playing for free.
This film presents the stories of several of the fighters of Doglegs, like Shintaro. He’s a Tokyo janitor who has fought for twenty years but finally wants to retire. To do so, he has to finally defeat the group’s able-bodied organizer, who has been his nemesis the entire time. Known as the Antithesis, Kitakima works as a heel and proclaims that he has defeated the disabled for twenty years. He pushes Shintaro hard in all aspects of his life, which some in the West would see as cruel.
L’Amant, who suffers from cerebral palsy and near-total paralysis, is another fighter. Other than wrestling, he only cares about cross-dressing and drinking sake. Now, he wants to die in the ring battling either his able-bodied wife or son.
Kitajima said, “Let’s show people this pro wrestling of ours. We’ll shock the unthinking able-bodied out of their complacency and give them some real food for thought. Then, maybe we can shake up their rigid thinking about disabled people and the volunteer community.” He has also said that “fighting the disabled without kid gloves is a sign of respect.”
I’ve heard some criticism of this film because it doesn’t present a point of view. To me, the fact that the director Heath Cozens was able to get this level of access and present such a strange subculture of a subculture and make it accessible to all is the true win. It’s simple to look at these men and women with pity. It’s harder to realize that they are discovering the meaning of what life can be through violent art.