Andy Reviews Al-Jazeera Feature

I Love this mystical side and the long history of sumo, too…but sorry, I dislike its treatment in this video.

God, I miss jungyo.

I thought this little news feature would be a good way to quench my thirst for a half-hour or so but it’s not all smiles. In fact, it’s a lot of frowny faces and now a few hours spent drafting a rebuttal. Despite the overwhelmingly positive appearance of the reviews on YouTube, 63 “likes” to 1 “dislike,” I found myself clicking thumbs-down and becoming “dislike #2”. I’m disappointed that it caves too easily to reinforcing stereotypes. Rather than ignore such shoddy reporting, I think it’s important to call it out — and it’s important for me to give John Gunning, and MMA fans, an apology.

For a few weeks, I had been thinking my bad translations were the “fake news” that had gotten John Gunning riled up. That article did not have a lot of specifics but now, I’m thinking…”Was it this, instead?” It may have just been unfortunate timing that he had tweeted me about a mistake I’d made a few days before.

Yes, I make mistakes, but I try real hard to provide fans with updates on the sumo world because more and more, reliable news is hiding behind a paywall or a wall of ads. And the reason I think reliable information must be free is because there is BS out there. Truth must always outbid lies. I’m struggling to find a sustainable model for providing that reliable information but I’ll get there and I’ve got a plan I’d like to try if we can get to the other side of this Covid crisis. (So watch this space.)

Let’s face it, when I think two rikishi standing in a parking lot are going to drivers’ ed instead of sumo school, I feel like a dumbass. But it is vitally important to get called out and I take it on the chin and learn. I’m always open to criticism of me and my reporting on this site. I’ve got pretty thick skin. The few times I’ve had to step in relating to comments on the site, it’s been about protecting others and things that are offensive…which has been VERY rare. Readers of this site are amazing and quite knowledgeable and respectful.

As an aside: While I’m typing this, I realize that I owe MMA fans an apology for dissing MMA recently. Sorry, Takanofuji’s actions are not an indictment of the sport, as I’d implied. He needs to be able to control his aggression because I fear he’s going to end up in real trouble or really hurting someone. I was afraid RIZIN was enabling it and promoting it for attention.

In the case of this news story, though, I don’t think Al-Jazeera will learn anything and begin to cover sumo as anything more than a weird curiosity, “closed off to outsiders.” This is a one-time piece, not a reporter learning a new beat. And it’s the same for The New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, etc. They will not do what we deserve, which is provide reliable current events about our sport. Wouldn’t it have been cool to have an sports channel from the Arab world covering the sport when Osunaarashi was dolling out kachi-age?

I’m sorry, John. I’d taken it personally when you’d called out “fake news.” The fact is, we exist here because the usual media sources do exactly what this piece (of poo) does. They try to offer viewers “Unrivaled Access” by peeling back a curtain on some bizarre, foreign world. “Hey guys, get a load of what’s happening in here! Their religion makes them do weird things.” On the contrary, sumo Twitter, the Sumo Forum, Doistuyama’s SumoDB, and us fan blogs and podcasts try our best to share the rare tidbits and nuggets from this amazing sport.

OK, rant over, let’s get to the review. After an ad, the piece starts out by looking at young Toki and Shosuke training to be sumo wrestlers then abandons that and follows a young female fan and her obsession with sumo. Then, we jump to having special access in Naruto-beya. And just as we’re settling in with Naruto, the crew takes us back to talk to the kids — but not before they take a shot at the “isolation.” From here, they go completely off the rails and take the disappointing angle of pegging young Shosuke as a dumb jock with this insane dream of joining a bunch of fat monks who beat each other to death. Those other kids, the ones who dream of being “rock stars and football legends” are so much more legitimate somehow?

While in Naruto-beya, and criticizing all the fat they’re adding to the chanko, they cite a startling statistic that sumo wrestlers’ life expectancy, at 65, is 20 years less than the average Japanese man. I immediately wonder whether the crew will follow the guys from the chanko dining-hall out to an izakaya. The narrator goes on, the newer wrestlers “joined 3 months ago. Most won’t last a year.” It wouldn’t surprise me, but I’d check that little stat. Sometimes I wish the News was subject to peer review.

I’d also offer a little context. I know a lot of English teachers and hosts and hostesses who didn’t make it a year in Japan. I also know a whole bunch of servers and cooks and Target Associates here in the US who didn’t make it a year. I wonder what the attrition rate is for journalists? It must be rough starting out as an urban beat reporter, alone, carrying around your own camera in downtown DC or Philly to set up your live shots, or in the studio getting unwelcome daily fashion advice from your traffic reports…while your editor hobnobs with the political and business elites at cocktail parties? Or am I stereotyping?

I am curious, though, Al Jazeera…are you going to follow a young salaryman or engineer at Toyota while he’s at the office until 10pm and living at the company dorm? Are you going to mourn his love live or access to girls? Dude…the look on those wrestlers’ faces when that girl was taking pictures. Girls are not some unknown to them. I’d have loved that kind of attention. Let’s face it, I didn’t have career goals in mind when I was living in Tokyo. I went out, had fun, met my wife…15 years later, I still can’t speak Japanese. When you set your mind to a career, chances are you are not going to have a lot of time to do a lot of things.

I think my major frustration here is that there was so much potential here for a half-dozen great documentaries. Follow Shosuke without insulting a 13-year-old kid. Why is his dream any less legitimate than anyone else’s? As for you dissing his math, he’ll be a whiz counting up his kensho one day. What happened to Toki? Or Makko? I can tell you, sujo are not some new thing. My wife’s grandmother was one.

Makko’s autographed Hakuho tabi-sock and sumo cards are surely only a small fraction of her private sumo museum. I cracked up when she’s “back stage” at a jungyo event with Hakuho himself, and he quietly asks her, “Who’s design are you wearing?” and she answers, “Mitakeumi.” The subtle look on his face was priceless but the moment appeared lost to the narrator. The shot where Makko walks up to Ichinojo and asks his weight should have been left on the cutting room floor. Yes, he’s big, we know that. Go back and explore her collection!!!

I swear, with the kind of access that was offered to Al Jazeera, any of us sumo fan blogs or podcasts would have walked away with absolute GOLD. Yes, we’re aware of the controversies. But when you do a story on Shohei Otani, are you going to mention the Houston Astros and their cheating scandal? Is Jordan McNair a required topic for a piece about football? You’re not going to change things from the outside. The sport has been changing, and it has been changing for the better. We fans will keep working on it because it’s an awesome sport. And this awesome sport deserves better, and more regular, reporting. (I mean, if you’re having to dive into scandals from a decade ago, how current is your reporting?)

Al Jazeera, you just proved to me that a 15 year-old girl got better access to the Kakukai, and a lot better understanding of it, than you. “Unrivaled Access.” HA!

Shiko Funjatta (Sumo Do, Sumo Don’t): Sumo on the Big Screen

Sumo Do, Sumo Don't - Auckland - Eventfinda

For a sport thousands of years old, there is a surprising lack of sumo representation on the big screen. While there a few documentary-style films out there, such as ones following the careers of Wakanohana and Kyokutaisei, sumo tends to be relegated to the background, as a quick way to establish the Japanese-ness of a setting or location. A prime example of this can be found in 1967’s You Only Live Twice, where a sumo match is one of the first sights James Bond takes after arriving in the land of the rising sun. In most cases, when sumo is mentioned, it is typically the butt of a joke or presented in such a fashion that would make any fan of the sport roll their eyes in disgust. While fully fleshed-out representations of sumo are few and far between, when they do hit the big screen they do so with tremendous effect. A prime example of such a film is the 1992 comedy Shiko Funjatta, also known by its English title Sumo Do, Sumo Don’t.

There will be spoilers throughout this review, so if you haven’t seen the film and would like to, I have included a link to it here. For English subtitles, be sure to turn captions on.

Shiko Funjatta is set at Kyoritsu University, where protagonist Shuhei Yamamoto has decided to take the easy route and accepting a job at his uncle’s company. To do so, however, Shuheu needs Professor Anayama, his thesis supervisor, to give him the credits he is missing so that he can graduate early. Anayama agrees, but only under the condition that Shuhei helps the sumo club by participating in an upcoming tournament. Shuhei initially objects, but the club’s manager, the beautiful media student Natsuko Kawamura, convinces him to join. Shuhei quickly learns that the deal he cut with Anayama was too good to be true. Not only is the sumo club in dire straights, but’s its sole member, Aoki Tomio, has never won a match despite delaying his graduation multiple years to keep the club afloat. When asked why he would put his life on hold for the failing club, Aoki admits that he is a diehard sumo fan and has a great deal of respect for Anayama, the club’s most decorated former member.

After helping Shuhei into a mawashi (which he mistakenly called a jockstrap much to Aoki’s annoyance) the two set out to recruit new members, as they will need at least two more to compete in the tournament. It is here that the pair meet the hapless Hosaku Tanaka, a timid man who is constantly dripping with sweat. Despite his shyness, Aoki believes Tanaka to be a natural rikishi due to his sturdy, shuffling walk. Aoki and Shuhei aren’t the only ones searching for new members. Manager Natsuko is also out scouting a puroresu show put on by the school’s wrestling team, where she sees Haruo, who is reluctantly being forced to wrestle under the guise of a cross-dressing character. Haruo joins the sumo team, where it is revealed that he is Shuhei’s younger brother. With four members, the Kyoritsu club can now officially compete.

Sumo Do Sumo Don't (Shiko funjatta) (1992) - Ázsiafilm

The tournament goes disastrously for the team. Shuhei and Haruo are easily out skilled, while Tanaka’s fear makes him freeze up during the match. The most embarrassing loss goes to Aoki, who gets uncontrollable bouts of diarrhea under presser that force him to forfeit his bouts. As a result, the club loses all of its matches, those to the tournament champions from Hokuto University. At a dinner following the tournament, the club is berated by Kyoritsu alumni and former teammates of Professor Anayama for their shameful effort. Despite his promise to Anayama being fulfilled, a fiery Shuhei declares that the net time they compete, they will win the tournament. To help motivate the team, Natsuko uses her media connections to arrange for the local news station to do a story on the Kyoritsu Sumo club. To further improve their chances, Aoki and Shuhei try and convince Refrigerator, the captain of the football team, to join the sumo club but he turns them down. Instead, Refrigerator points them in the direction of a foreign exchange student from Britain named Smiley. a powerful rugby player, Smily initially turns them down and derides sumo, but he changes his mind and joins the club after Aoki promises him free board and food at the club’s dormitory, though with the condition that he be allowed to wear shorts under his mawashi.

As a result of their TV appearance, the Kyoritsu sumo club has gained significant popularity, especially amongst female students who come to practices to try and catch a glimpse of Haruo. One such observer is Masako Mamiya, who leaves the practice after catching the other girls mocking her for her weight. While sitting in the university’s courtyard, she has a chance encounter with Professor Anayama, and she begs him to let her join the club as a cook and manager. After several weeks of practice, Professor Anayama takes the entire sumo team on a vacation to his hometown for a summer training camp. Despite the reputation of Anayama’s “hell camp” the team is told to do nothing but relax during their stay, which they do with the exception of Tanaka who continues to train. It is during this trip that Haruo admits to Natsuko that he bears secret feelings for her, but she turns him down. After several more days of nothing but eating and sleeping, Anayama reveals that he only brought the club to camp to make them gain weight without them knowing, as more weight will help them win their matches. He also tells them that he has arranged a practice session with Hokuto University, who are holding their training camp nearby. This turns out to be another ruse by Anayama, for instead of Hokuto University, the local children’s sumo team arrives to practice with the club. Initially overwhelmed by the children, Anayama coaches each club member on how to concur their weaknesses, and for the first time, the Kyoritsu team achieves success on the dohyo.

This success is short-lived, however, as the Hokuto club crashes the training session, leading to a brawl that ultimately leaves the Kyoritsu team banged up and mawashi-less. Fresh off another humiliation, the Kyoritsu team trains harder than ever until the day of the tournament arrives. The news crew that first covered their training sessions has returned and provided colourful mawashi for the team to wear, and while the tournament organizers have no issue with this they do have a problem with Smiley wearing shorts with his mawashi. Smiley refuses to take the shorts off, preferring to forfeit his matches rather than go bare. Even without Smiley, the new and improved Kyoritsu team lead by Shuhei, Haruo, and Tanaka, advance up the bracket until the final against Hokuto University.

เล่นไป...ยิ้มไป กับ 6 หนังกีฬาฮาเฮ อุ่นเครื่องก่อนชม Balls of Fury ...
From left to right: Smiley, Haruo, Shuhei, Natsuko, Tanaka (behind), and Aoki.

In their first match, Haruo loses and breaks his arm and a distraught Masako carries him off to get medical attention. After a quick loss by Tanaka, Kyoritsu is in a tough spot and must win the final three bouts. Inspired by the hard work of his teammates, Smiley decides to fight without his shorts rather than forfeit the entire tournament and gives his team their first win. The pressure is now on Aoki to keep Kyoritsu hopes alive, and like always he is hit by a bout of diarrhea. Just as the tachiai happens, Aoki suddenly clenches his entire body, and in doing so knocks his opponent out, tying the score 2-2. It all comes down to Shuhei, who in a climactic finish, withstands the overwhelming assault of the Hokuto captain and wins the tournament for Kyoritsu University.

While the tournament may be over, the Kyoritsu team has a chance to compete for a spot in the next division of university sumo. Knowing that their opponents will field at least seven men, and with Haruo out of commission, Professor Anayama decides not to try for the next division. This prompts Masako, who despite being a woman and thus barred from the tournament, begs him to let her compete in Haruo’s place. Anayama gives in and with Refrigerator joining the team as well, Kyoritsu takes on the imposing Daitoa University. In the opening match, Masako, now going under the name Mamiya and wearing heavy bandages over her chest, fights valiantly for Haruo but ultimately loses her match. Refrigerator also loses, but Smiley, Tanaka, and Aoki win hard-fought bouts to give their team the edge. Just like in the tournament finals, everything comes down to Shuhei. Nearly half the size of his opponent, Anayama tells Shuhei that under no circumstances is he to let go of his challenger’s mawashi. Several times, Shuhei comes a hair away from losing, but he refuses to give up and continues to fight on until he is pushed right to the tawara. In a stunning, last-ditch effort, Shuhei executes a perfect izori kimarite, completely flipping his opponent over his head to win it all for his Kyoritsu University.

Following their big win, Aoki finally graduates, Tanaka decides to join professional sumo, and Smiley returns to Britain. Haruo and Masako agree to meet up with him in London, as they have decided to move there together to finish their schooling. Rather than leave for his cushy office job, Shuhei decides to remain at Kyoritsu University for another year to keep the sumo club alive. As the film ends, he and manager Natsuko practice shiko on the dohyo, hinting at a budding relationship between the two.

Sumo Do, Sumo Don't.1992.Vietsub – PHƯƠNG PHIÊU DIÊU

While the concept of a team of misfits banding together to overcome adversity and win the championship is a well-worn plot device, Shiko Funjatta adds just enough charm and quirkiness to result in a heartwarming, enjoyable movie experience. As far as a representation of sumo on the big screen, Shiko Funjatta not only highlights some of the sports most important characteristics, such as determination, hard work, and fighting spirit but also teases out some of the more humorous aspects of sumo in a way that doesn’t belittle the sport. Shiko Funjatta went on to have tremendous critical success in Japan, winning several awards such as best picture and best director at the ’92 Japan Academy Awards. Given the film’s success, it is quite surprising that there have been so few genuine representations of sumo in media. I believe that the sumo world still has many stories to tell, and hopefully one day those stories will make it to the big screen.

NHK World’s Grand Sumo Preview Airs Friday


One of the great additions to NHK World’s sumo coverage is a new program that is filmed and broadcasts prior to each basho entitled “Grand Sumo Preview”. This 30 minute program features the NHK on-air sumo personalities and commentators providing an overview of the state of sumo just prior to the tournament, along with one or two in-depth examinations of subjects around sumo. The one prior to Nagoya featured one of the hosts joining the queue to get “day of” tickets outside the Kokugikan in May.

The program airs Friday and Saturday Japan time, with the first showing being tonight at 12:30 AM Eastern / 9:30 PM Pacific in US time.

Andy’s Controversial Take On Spoilers

I know my point of view on spoilers in sport is controversial so I figure I owe some explanation.

Let’s assume a sport fan, fw, has watched a sporting event while another fan, fn, has not. There is a certain amount of enjoyment, e, to be had in watching an event live, unaware of the outcome. However, the enjoyment of a sporting event is not merely in knowing the outcome, eo. The enjoyment of a sporting event also comes from knowing how the outcome was achieved, eh. So, e = eo + eh. I have certainly been on both sides of the coin: I missed this past Superbowl because my wife wanted to go to a movie and I watched Harumafuji win this very Nagoya basho live last year and, as an eager fanboy, was extremely excited to share the result with my friends.

So here we have it: Which is greater: ∑fw (eo+ eh), the enjoyment of fans who watched the event and want to freely discuss how in the hell Edelman caught that pass? or ∑fn (-eo), the enjoyment lost by those who learn that the Patriots won another title, yet without having watched the event? I believe that even with the outcome known, both fans have more enjoyment in the HOW than merely the final score. ∑fw (eo+ eh) > ∑fn (-eo), and I firmly endorse the free speech rights of fans who want to freely discuss an event.

The implication is this: I put together this blog for the comment section, not so I could read my own take on the sport. As a fanboy of this professional king of the hill we know as sumo, I find every Tochinoshin/Ichinojo match-up just as thrilling as every Micky Ward/Arturo Gatti (RIP) battle. On reddit yesterday, I was reminded of the greatest henka ever: Hakuho pulling one over on Kisenosato from about five years ago. Kisenosato charged at Hakuho prematurely, not once, but twice! Hakuho was fuming and even bumped that dastardly ozeki. The drama is something to behold…and is certainly not lessened by the fact that it’s a historical bout with its outcome long ago known and determined.

Granted, I love the sound of the voice of the dude who narrates NFL films. But that’s beside the point. I don’t watch the sport like a gambler, just interested in whether I made the over/under. I watch the sport for the technique and the drama and I cover this sport because I want to share my love and appreciation for that drama. Now, y’all can flame me to your hearts content. No comments will be censored in this thread.