I like sports movies, and I love Japanese sports movies. They are often touching, usually inspiring, and almost always entertaining. Sumo Do Sumo Don’t was one of the first sports movies that I have ever seen, and what a fine example of the genre it still is. I have had the joy of seeing this film again with its release on DVD in Australia, and here are my thoughts some 15 years on from the time I first saw it as a young film lover.
Shuhei Yamamoto (Masahiro Motoki) is a final year student at Kyoritsu University. Not quite fulfilling the requirements to graduate, he strikes a deal with his professor. The condition is that he has to join the university sumo club, which is at the bottom of the 3rd division, i.e. not doing very well. So he puts on a Mawashi sash and starts training in the noble sport of sumo wrestling. But there is still a problem: Aoki Tomio (Naoto Takenaka) has been the only official member of the club for the past 4 years, and to be eligible to enter any competitions, they need to recruit a few more members into the team…
Sumo Do Sumo Don’t was released almost 20 years ago. Since then, there have been countless Japanese sports films that follow a similar ‘formula’. Take for example a crowd favourite at the recent Japanese Film Festival, Feel the Wind. If you have seen both films, it shouldn’t be hard for you to see the similarities between the two. The team of unlikely players, their underdog status, the foreign student, the intense training and the exciting climax are just a few examples.
The cast consists of many familiar faces. The actor in the lead role, Masahiro Motoki, was recently seen in the Oscar-winning Departures. The unwilling sumo wrestler he portrays is probably the most charming sumo wrestler you will ever come across. Veteran actor Naoto Takenaka plays Aoki in an incredibly hilarious performance. They won the Best Actor Award and Best Supporting Actor Award respectively at the Japanese Academy Awards in 1993. Those who got to see the closing film at this year’s Japanese Film Festival in Sydney and Melbourne, A Lone Scalpel, should recognise actor Akira Emoto who plays Prof Anayama.
Director Masayuki Suo is not particularly prolific, but his works shine with their quality. His most acclaimed film so far is probably Shall We Dansu?, the classic dance drama that oozes elegance and gentle beauty. His more recent film, I Just Didn’t Do It, a drama about the Japanese justice system, again won him a lot of praises. Sumo Do Sumo Don’t is one of his earlier works, but still ranks as one of his best, and with it, he won Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay at the Japanese Academy Awards.
Sumo Do Sumo Don’t is a wonderful film that has an interesting story, likeable cast and many laugh-out-loud moments. It’s an older film, but its charms certainly haven’t lessened over time. It is not just touching, inspiring and entertaining, but also funny, fun-filled and in my word, ‘funtastic’.