Calamari Wrestler / Ika resuraa
d. Minoru Kawasaki / Japan / 2004 / 95 mins
Viewed on: Region 1 DVD
I’m so far behind on my updates it’s not funny – expect a plethora of posts in the coming weeks, mostly brief and kinda crap, as I endeavour to actually catch up with my own viewing for the first time since starting this here blog. First up, a mini Japanese fiesta, starting with the kind of B-grade goodness that can only be achieved with the assistance of an anthropomorphic cephalopod.
Beginning with 2004’s Calamari Wrestler, oddball Japanese director Minoru Kawasaki has produced a series of films which put a much more family-friendly spin on the Troma style, racking up his cult status with plenty of hammy acting, unimaginative camerawork, pedestrian editing and bad music. (Oh, and plenty of animals who act like humans.)
I’m sure I lost you at hello, but stick with me, because like a lot of the Troma back-catalogue, Kawasaki’s strange ways work in…well, strange ways.
Tracing the comeback of a former champion of the ring (there’s a pun in there somewhere, maybe), Calamari Wrestler is an acute parody (and/or pastiche) of the classic redemption narrative at the heart of so many sports films. But as you may have guessed from the title, where there once was a man, now stands (!) a squid.
Undoubtedly, this film would be dull as dishwater if played as a straight narrative without an anthropomorphic hero. As it stands, the rigid direction of Kawasaki only adds to the air of absurdism, keeping stylistic pace with typical generic tropes as the squid wrestles his way to glory. This straight-faced style has become something of a trademark for Kawasaki, and often sees his central anthropomorphic characters treated less like freaks or outcasts, and more like people of a different race or ethnicity.
Drawing heavily on Kawasaki’s love of manga and kaijū eiga (Japanese monster movies), Calamari Wrestler rattles along at quite a pace, throwing everything into the slow cooker and simmering it down into almost indistinguishable riffs on the ‘man in a suit’ aesthetic, Hong Kong’s martial arts cinema and the Rocky franchise.
That the film’s ‘big battle’ occurs not at the end of the film, but two-thirds of the way through, only extends Kawasaki’s parodic palette into hyperbolic treatments of celebrity endorsement and, with the late introduction of the Squilla Boxer, the preponderance for codas which leave films open to the exploitative modes of sequel, prequel and spin-off.
If you want intellectual comedy, I’d suggest heading elsewhere. But if you’re up for a bit of mindless stupidity and outright absurdism, you could do a lot worse than seeking out the films of Minoru Kawasaki. It is fun, it is fun, it is great big squiddy fun.