The Great Sasuke
Producer:Mikiko Sasaki & Jonathan Schwarz
Editor:Mikiko Sasaki & Alex O'Flinn
The Great Sasuke
This is the part where I talk about Pro Wrestling from the heart, and about documentary filmmaking, and about politics, and about hero worship. These things may, or may not, be that compatible, but they all swirl around a single film, a beautiful film, by Mikiko Sasaki, called The Great Sasuke.
Let me start with the whole wrestling thing. Wrestling as we know it today most likely came about in the 19th century. Before that, it was a (mostly) legit set of contests that dates back to a time before Abe Vagoda (Peace be with him...). Theatrics really became incorporated with pioneers like William Muldoon, Farmer Burns, Evan Strangler Lewis, and Georg Hackenschmidt. These were still incrediblly tough men, but they also knew how to work, ie. do jobs and tell storylines to increase the amount of money matches would draw. It was really television that amped things up, and characters like Gorgeous George started to appear more and more frequently. This was not only an American phenomena. Mexico had Lucha Libre, pro wrestling that tended towards submissions and mat work, that evolved into a style that emphasized high flying acrobatics and masked wrestlers. Japan had Pro Wrestling introduced before World War II, but following the war, it exploded, gaining great traction and making a MASSIVE star out of Rikidozan. His two main protoges, Shohei Giant Baba and Antonio Inoki, became major stars, with Inoki becoming a fairly prominent political figure.
Mexico's Lucha was introduced to Japan a few times, most notably by Mil Mascaras in the 1960s and 70s. His success with kids led to a wave of young wrestlers wanting to emulate him, including a young man named Sataru Sayama. He would train in Mexico, then come back to become Tiger Mask. Tiger Mask, and his matches against Mexican stars, and especially the British master worker Dynamite Kid, would transform wrestling and lead to a generation that wanted to be him. Tiger Mask is largely responsible for wrestlers like Ultimo Dragon and Jushin Liger wanting to wrestle, and for the popularity of masks among lighter weight wrestlers. Out of that tradition came The Great Sasuke, who would form his own promotion, Michinoku Pro, and introduce a style of wrestling that had never really been seen before in Japan. it was lucha, it was slightly goofy, it was incredibly athletic, and it was plain ol' fashioned fun!
Sasuke also turned to politics, getting elected to the Japanese Diet, though he would lose in further attempts. He was allowed to attend the Diet with his Mask intact, which was a first.
The documentary The Great Sasuke focuses on his run for another political seat, and on Sasuke as the man who lives with the Mask. He's not young anymore, he's beaten up and slightly broken down. He has some anger issues, as is evidenced by his roughly grabbing a guy who took a photo of him with his cameraphone. We see him run, his failure at winning a seat, and his methods for promoting himself. That, perhaps, is what turned me towards this doc the most. It is a Pro Wrestler attempting to gain traction in the outside world using Pro Wrestling tactics. He promotes himself so well, but a lot of it falls on deaf ears. He's 'lost his heat' in a sense, but at the same time, he has not lost his HEART.
We get precious little of what it is to be The Great Sasuke outside of the mask, and we're better off for it. The mask has not quite consumed him, but he has tamed it to the point where he has become one with the mask. We see some of his family life, and it's lovely, but we are left with the feeling that this is the unusual; The Great Sasuke is his reality and everything else is the myth. Still, I appreciated a glimpse at the mythology.
The Great Sasuke is well-shot, well-reasoned, and engaging on just about every level. Wrestling fans may find that there's not enough wrestling, but then come to the political story as just another aspect of The Work. Those interested in the political story may well find that the Wrestling gives them a much better understanding of what is really going on in an election. Those who just like a good movie will be rewarded by a film that just never gets dull and draws them in, and somehow even beyond the Mask. It's a really strong view for just about anyone.
Klaus at Gunpoint
A Film Journal dedicated to all film.A segment of Office Supply Publishing.