I watched the Japanese movie The Calamari Wrestler and it meets or exceeds all expectations when you consider the premise: wrestler dies and re-incarnates as a giant squid and goes on to challenge all comers in the ring.
There is no pretense about the creature–it is obviously a man in a squid suit, with eyes that move about (though they sometimes stick, which is a bit unnerving to see). He has his arms inserted into two of the tentacles and then waves them madly about. All emotional expression is managed with body movements, and the exaggerated nature of mannerisms typical in these types of movies works rather well.
Favorite quotes and scenes from the movie:
“I have no giant squid friends!”
The giant squid seated in zen meditation. The giant squid getting out of an elevator. The giant squid making love (what was all of that in the background?) The giant squid wrestling. The giant squid.
“Joint locks don’t work on an invertebrate. They’re too slippery.”
The giant squid has a wet dream, and it literally becomes a wet dream. Nothing like a sweaty squid.
The giant squid trying to be incognito by wearing sunglasses.
“You want me to date a giant squid? But he has been banned from wrestling–how could he support me?” (Not exact wording but close.)
The scene where the romantically rejected squid is dejectedly walking home, tentacles waving about, back-lit by the setting sun was a kicker. But not as much as watching the squid skip about with the woman of his dreams.
Is it a ‘good’ movie? Define ‘good’. From what Cinema Strikes Back writes:
Right up front, I have to say Calamari Wrestler is not a “good” movie. The budget is miniscule, the acting is broad, the plot meanders, and, obviously, the whole movie is completely ridiculous. However, none of that stops this from being a great piece of entertainment.
The writer went on to compliment the costumes of the creatures, and I agree: they weren’t real, but they were art (something lost in today’s hunt for ‘realism’ in fictional works.)
The Calamari Wrestler is both spoof and a commentary on the Japanese Professional Wrestling association, and from a wrestler featured in the movie and other scenes, must be as truthful and believable as our own American form of the sport. It is a silly movie, but played straight; increasing the entertainment value and the humor in my opinion.
However, there are some other aspects of the movie that seemed quite serious and I wondered how much of it reflects underlying Japanese perceptions and attitudes. For instance, Japanese professional wrestling is seen in the movie as the wind behind the wings of spirit (if I remember the term correctly) that gave heart to the Japanese when they were occupied by the US. No, the ‘hated’ US was the term used.
The movie also had, I thought, overtones of race and class differences–subtle, and not so subtle–such as the health of the giant squid being a measure of the ‘whiteness’ of its skin. I wish I was more familiar with Japanese culture and history because this movie is (for all its Saturday matinee cheesy monsters) subtly nuanced. I think the director targetted more than just Japanese professional wrestling with Calamari.
Do I recommend it? Yes! But only for those people who get to the end of this post and think to themselves, “I have to rent this!” If you do, don’t suspend belief with this movie; you’ll enjoy it so much more if you accept it completely at face value.
Next week: the matinee movie Dogora