Finally, a movie that represents professional wrestling as exciting, powerful and important. RIKIDOZAN is a fantastic work that illuminates the desire of a man who wants to be something more and how that same passion caused his self-destruction. One important aspect of this film is the portrayal of Rikidozan as a hero instead of the usual representation of wrestlers as animals and baffoons. It not only showed his professional success but allowed us to follow in the demise of his private life. I'm sure there are many wrestlers from yesterday and today who can identify with his rapid climb and fall as well as the struggle to hold on to what you had.
Professional wrestling, in the United States, is considered the "male soap opera" and as of right now is regarded as little more than a joke. Are the matches pre-determined? Yes. Is it "fake"? No. Because in that ring you have wrestlers who have spent years perfecting their craft, to try and make you believe. They get injured more frequently and more severely than many athletes in other professional sports. They train and pull off stunts that other professional athletes can't even begin to dream about. But do wrestlers get the proper recognition for their efforts? No. Why? Well, they're not real athletes are they?
Rikidozan was a real athlete and has been immortalized in this film. When Japan was crippled from World War II, Rikidozan became the nations inspiration. After, being rejected from sumo wrestling because he was Korean, he went to America where he became an in ring sensation. Upon his return he made the biggest impact of his life on the people of Japan as they considered him to have conquered America, their wartime enemy. He was a national hero. He brought professional wrestling to Japan, where it has flourished ever since. In Japan wrestling is not a fad that comes every now and again, it's a rite of passage.
The downfall opposite Rikidozan's rise somewhat reflects today's current state of the business. He simply did not want to lose his status. The movie sees Rikidozan even change the finish of a match on the fly so he would not have to lose which was then topped by his already violent temper growing even worse due to his paranoia of the Yakuza murdering him. Here Rikidozan represents Triple H. Triple H refuses to build up new talent in wee because he is paranoid about losing his "top spot" and insists that he is still the top draw. Rikidozan followed this same path and ultimately succumbed to using drugs ("Western Medicine") like so many of the greats have like Jake "The Snake" Roberts and Mr. Perfect. This movie portrays wrestling as what it really is: A gritty business, full of politics and corruption and pain, with the only light being performing for the fans.
Technically speaking the movie is no wunderkind. The translation of the dialog is weak. The performances tend to be a little over the top at times. The direction is not strong and at times (during the montages) can be a bit overbearing. But none of that is as important as the story. It follows the path of one of the all time great wrestlers, a true legend, who, despite his personal problems, brought a nation out of their seats at the mere mention of his name.
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