Documentary on the Japanese boxer Unchain Kaji, who retired from the ring at the age of 30 with an eye injury and a losing record. He then tries to start a new life as a civilian.




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Credited cast:
Unchain Kaji ...
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Chihara Junia ...
Narrator (voice) (as Kôji Chihara)


Documentary on the Japanese boxer Unchain Kaji, who retired from the ring at the age of 30 with an eye injury and a losing record. He then tries to start a new life as a civilian.

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10 September 2000 (Canada)  »

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Unchained and Re-released
1 February 2017 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

There are many different styles and approaches to take when making a documentary, with the telling of the story very much down to the director's discretion. Though Toshiaki Toyoda's dip into the world of documentary seems initially to be more determined by available footage than any artistic choices.

But this is no surprise. 'Unchain' is a documentary about a man of not particularly much merit, and you would not believe that Toyoda particularly set out to make a documentary about the subject as a breakthrough moment early in his career. Instead, 'Unchain' feels like a personal interest story for Toyoda: a character he had stumbled across and felt the need to explore further; a film not exactly in need of a huge budget.

So, what does 'Unchain' Kaji have to offer the world to make you part with ninety-eight minutes of your time to share Toyoda's interest in him?

Well, in the mid-Nineties, Toyoda became friends with a group of boxers from the Osaka slum Kawazaki. One, notably, had a losing record, achieving one draw his career highlight: the fighter known as 'Unchain' Kaji. However, by the time Toyoda started filming the boxers, Kaji had quit boxing, suffering from an eye injury and subsequent mental health problems. The earlier parts of the film, therefore, rely on previous footage of his fights, and larks, the group of friends already had; Kaji himself now in hospital.

The footage, therefore, is very jittery and shot on lower-quality hand-held cameras, an approach Toyoda maintains when he takes over, filming the subsequent fights of the remaining boxers. In between these fights, interviews with the boxers, friends and colleagues are included, minus Kaji, of course, giving a rather illusive and almost sinister air to what may have become of the troubled youth. The story of his descent, resulting in his being sectioned, is accompanied by docu-drama style recreations of the moment he sort to attack a work colleague over payments. It is from here that holes in the storytelling start to emerge.

Now in hospital, Kaji is almost forgotten for part of the documentary, instead the focus switches to the other boxers, trying to resurrect their moderate careers, though all themselves inevitably fail. One marries Kai's ex-girlfriend while he is away in hospital, as if he is almost out of the picture completely. The story of the titular character, therefore, is replaced by Toyoda's coverage of amateur boxing fights.

It is a shame that more was not done to try and cover Kaji's time away in hospital and what happened to him over this period. Though perhaps due to cultural and personal preferences, it was perhaps felt better not discussed. The first half of the film paints an interesting portrait of the erratic Kaji, the type of friend we all have: wild and unpredictable, yet earnest and loyal, leaving you unsure whether to push them away or pull them in for embrace. Toyoda felt an affinity with this 'loser' whose life took a turn for the worse.

The others featured themselves all end up failing, though their more conventional personas make them much less intriguing, and the documentary dips a little as focus switches to them, the extended footage of their fights at times a little awkward and drawn out.

Kaji returns to the scene towards the end, catching up with his old friends who haven't seen him since he went into hospital. He watches on, as he did before, as one of his fellow boxers fights in Tokyo, inevitably losing. Kaji is now a more subdued character than the one portrayed from earlier footage, seemingly coming to terms with his status.

More on how the old Kaji became the new Kaji would have rounded 'Unchain' better. Instead, this is a mere snapshot of a group of friends, perhaps lacking a little more depth, for whatever reasons. Though, as often with these personal interest pieces, it is an intriguing look at the lives of those on the fringes of society, perhaps now boxed into a corner and left to be forgotten.

Thanks to Third Window Films for bringing them back from obscurity...

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