The Calamari Wrestler (Japan 2004)

Rating: **
Review Date: 9/18/05

Only in Japan... Enter the world of Japanese professional wrestling, a theatrical farce run by greedy, unscrupulous promoters. The film opens with a wrestler named Tageuchi winning the championship belt, only to have it snatched away by a giant squid. An enraged Tageuchi demands a legitimate fight with the squid, but the promoters will only allow such a fight if the Calamari Wrestler agrees to lose. As a squid with honor and integrity, he refuses to play their game. After gaining enough popularity and media attention, the slimy promoters finally agree to allow Tageuchi and Calamari to fight, just so they can sell lots of tickets. Tageuchi realizes the only way to beat Calamari is to become an octopus, so he undergoes a bizarre training regimen and transformation in Pakistan. A fierce battle goes down between Octopus and Calamari, but Calamari's victory isn't the end of the road. He then gets challenged by the ferocious Squilla Boxer (a giant Mantis Shrimp) and must prove his worth once again. But this time, Tageuchi is on his side and helps him train to beat Squilla's shotgun punch. And if all of this isn't strange enough, the baffling revelation and family reunion at the film's climax will completely melt your brain.

Production wise, the film is quite good. The direction, acting, cinematography, editing, and music score are competent and well done. It looks and sounds great, and the costumes are quite entertaining. The presentation is dead serious, as only the Japanese can do, and the film could have just as easily been a "real" wrestling drama. Perhaps more than anything, the film is reminiscent of the El Santo Mexican wrestling films of the 60's and 70's - just substitute masked wrestlers with fighting sea creatures. The familiar themes of love, honor, and integrity are there, along with the underlying sentiment that professional wrestling is a real and legitimate sport. The film hits all of the familiar clichés with its training montages, suffering girlfriends, rivals turned friends, and orphaned childhoods. The whole thing is quite hilarious to watch, although I was expecting a more campy, over-the-top presentation. It was clearly a very fun movie to make, and the crew definitely had a hard time trying to keep from laughing during filming. Unfortunately, the film starts to run out of steam about two thirds of the way through, as the novelty of watching wrestling seafood wears off. It tries to compensate by becoming even more bizarre and introducing a shocking family secret, but by the end, you don't really care. Still, it's a very fun movie for anyone who likes Asian oddities and enjoys things that are fresh and out of the ordinary.