Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger tried to shake his head, but that's remarkably hard to do inside of a 40-pound foam rubber helmet—particularly when famed wrestler Godozan had him in a full nelson.
"A cross between The Muppets and Godzilla."—The New York Times
Two thousand, one hundred fifty-one titles in the Internet Movie Database have the keyword "love." When you combine "love" with "pro wrestling," "Buddhist temple," "squid," and "human becoming animal," the list surprisingly narrows down to one title: The Calamari Wrestler.
The picture plays out just like it sounds: Giant calamari and octopi step into the ring to dish out figure-four leg locks and reverse Northern suplexes (suplexi?). Their human opponents are no match for multiple tentacled invertebrates. But will the Calamari wrestler ever be loved? Perhaps…if the rumors are true, and the Calamari wrestler is indeed the transmuted former champion, Kan-ichi Iwata. If so, current champ Koji Taguchi will have to come up big to retain his girlfriend Miyako.
The Calamari Wrestler is a no-budget effort by Japanese newcomers. It parodies everything from Rocky to Godzilla to The Empire Strikes Back while satirizing Japanese government and culture. The gag is basically a guy in rubber suit played straight in the midst of a stone-faced cast. The Calamari Wrestler sincerely wants to be the funniest movie of its kind you've ever seen, and it lands big with many people because of its heart, sense of fun, and audaciously straight presentation. Critics are almost required to rubber-stamp movies like these, if only to keep the rest of the human race from accusing us of having no sense of humor. Indeed, I wish it had tickled my funny bone as much as it did for others, but I found it too deadpan, and not as weird as it wanted to be. Though it clocks in at a modest 86 minutes, The Calamari Wrestler felt like a three-hour epic. If you get into its groove, this is good because The Calamari Wrestler packs so much parody into a brief run time. If not, it will fail the watch test; Mothra, Godzilla, and their ilk are funny precisely because they aren't supposed to be.
Don't think that my stunted response to The Calamari Wrestler is a condemnation. I didn't find it hilarious, but there's a high potential that you will. My problem with it was twofold. First, I didn't get it for almost 25 minutes, because I though the Calamari wrestler was actually a guy in a rubber suit doing pro wrestling, not a guy in a rubber suit being accepted as an actual calamari by the characters in the movie. He had boots on, for cryin' out loud! He's not an actual invertebrate. Anyway…the second problem was that I've been on a Beastie Boys kick lately and watched the umpteen versions of the "Intergalactic" video on the Criterion Collection DVD. I couldn't help but compare The Calamari Wrestler unfavorably to the briefer, but just as rich, "Intergalactic" parody of giant monster movies. The octopus suits were even similar. Both of my problems were highly idiosyncratic, and you probably won't have the same issues. The "Intergalactic" comparison might not even be fair, because for all I know the budget for that four-minute video might have been 50 times more than the budget for this entire movie.
If it does strike your fancy, be prepared to laugh at shots of Calamari out shopping, handing back exact change with his tentacles. Watch him putting the moves on Miyako from ten feet away, or holding her hand against a russet sunset. Tremble as the ominous Squilla comes out of nowhere to threaten Calamari's happiness, manically dishing out wicked shrimp punches to Calamari's bulbous head. Expect a barrage of subtle (and unsubtle) pop culture references, social satire, and barely restrained laughter from everyone in the cast.
Pathfinder's treatment is impressive for such an offbeat flick. The video has a uniformly yellowish cast with softness and poor detail, but the transfer is clean, uncut, and anamorphic. The cheesy sound effects come through clearly. Pathfinder has included two brief TV spots, two similar trailers, and a still gallery. There's a surprisingly serious-looking music video from an intense, anonymous Japanese woman. But the best feature is the making-of, which shows what we all want to see: guys horsing around in foam shrimp suits while bikini-clad beauties giggle in the background. The subtitles drop out in the middle of this feature, and it dwells overlong on stuff that bored me the first time around, but as a montage of behind-the-scenes antics it gets the job done.
Whether you sit in solemn silence or erupt into peals of laughter, you've probably never seen a movie hit these particular buttons at the same time. After all, it isn't often that one gets to watch monks perform the ritual of Seafood Soul Purification while tear-streaked maidens look on in apprehension.
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