A Day in Mori’s Garden, and The Impending End of Innocence

Japan Cuts 2018: Mori: The Artist’s Habitat and Hanagatami

 

Japan Society’s annual Japan Cuts Film Festival for 2018 ran from July 19th through July 29th. I saw previously saw and wrote about Ramen Shop and Night is Short, Walk on Girl, and here I’d like to share thoughts on the centerpiece and closing films.

Also check out my features on films from 2015’s2016’s, and last year’s festivals.

 

Mori: The Artist’s Habitat

 

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This year’s CUT ABOVE Award winner for Outstanding Performance in Film was actress Kirin Kiki, who was a joy to listen to in the Q&A following the centerpiece screening of Mori: The Artist’s Habitat. Kiki plays the tolerant wife of eccentric artist Mori, who’s barely left his home in thirty years and spends his time intensely studying life in his overgrown garden. In between a constant comedic stream of visitors and delicate, incredible cinematography featuring Mori’s garden and sharing his fascination with the viewers are encroaching themes about an intruding outside world and the passage of time. A decent movie with some interesting things to say and flashes of absolute brilliance in its techniques.

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Hanagatami

I usually discuss the main feature of a showing first and then offer brief closing comments on any accompanying shorts  that preceded the film. I take that approach to place the spotlight as seems appropriate as since while often quite good and complimentary accompaniments, they are also non-essential sidebars to the viewing / discussion of the full feature.

 

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Not so in this case. The 6 minute How Can You Know Where to Go If You Do Not Know Where You Have Been stop motion short not only held it’s own being as striking and memorable as the 3 hour film that would follow, but also served as a wonderful primer for the kind of lens through which the topics of both films could (and perhaps should) be viewed. I feel that having this in front of Hanagatami had a direct impact on my viewing experience of that film in a meaningful way.

In some ways a “simple” conversation with her grandmother about the past set to animation, director Mizuki Toriya’s short contains a powerful message about remembering and sharing the past delivered through an equally important demonstration of that practice.

 

 

Having Toriya at the screening in person to introduce the short and share thoughts about she made this film was an additional bonus. She humbly apologized in advance for the limited nature of the animation, but it was in fact perfectly paired with the conversation it accompanied and impactful in a touching, genuine way. It’s not entirely fair to compare shorts with full length films, but in the interest of full honesty and credit where credit is due this was my favorite film of anything I saw at Japan Cuts this year.

 

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I have to admit I don’t think I’ll ever fully know what to make of director Nobuhiko Obayashi’s epic examination of fleeting youth as war looms. Between nonlinear storytelling, hyperrealistic visuals that are as relentless as they are striking and gorgeous, adults playing teenagers, and numerous other creative and off kilter approaches there’s a lot to absorb from Hanagatami, and it’s often overwhelming. Nothing is spelled out (save for one short unfortunate immersion breaking monologue where the film seems to realize the layers of symbolism are getting too deep and simply states what a few things represented), and I left the theater far from close to unraveling the meanings and messages beneath the strange happenings I’d just witnessed. Also, the film felt every bit of it’s length, and as I tried to process the scenes at face value, the underlying subtext that was the real point of everything, the complex emotions of all the characters as their lives forever changed, the shifting relationships and love… octagon … that seemed to be going on, etc the movie did seem to strain under its own weight at time.

And yet, I still enjoyed the movie and feel it’s an extremely good one overall. The acting, anchored by star Shunsuke Kubozuka who was present to share valuable insight into the film’s creation in a post screening Q&A, was exquisite. Kubozuka’s performance was exaggerated in a way that fit with Obayashi’s kinetic visuals and gave depth and a captivating edge to his character without going too far. Everyone around him likewise had to push certain characteristics and traits within their performances while staying grounded and they all nailed it. I felt the anxiety of wanting to see how it all turned out and wanting to understand more and more of what was happening and the movie’s message every step of the way. I didn’t get all the way there, but what I did take from the film was affecting.

 

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Imperfections and all, Hanagatami is a film I’m glad I saw that will be pulling at my mind for a long time to come. It’s a collaboration between a director and cast that were all unafraid to push boundaries the craft on display itself is as worth seeking out as the important topics and themes addressed.

 

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That’s all for this year’s Japan Cuts from me. As usual I’m extremely happy to have been able to attend and thankful to all involved. Start counting down to next year. 😉

Sendai Girls 4/19/18 Live Thoughts

April 19, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

As I mentioned in my discussion of favorite matches from my trip last winter, I was lucky enough to travel back to Japan shortly thereafter. While this Spring trip was primarily to celebrate a momentous occasion for two close friends of mine, I also took the opportunity to see a lot of excellent wrestling.

Although I’m a huge fan of several of Sendai Girls’ regular roster and have seen them often at other companies’ shows, this was only my second chance to see one of their shows live, and my first of theirs at Korakuen Hall. Their 1/6/18 show I saw at Shinjuku Face was fantastic, and the card for this one left no doubt that it would be equally impressive.

 

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In an interesting bit of symmetry for me this show opened with the same rookie matchup the 1/6/18 show did with Ami Sato vs Manami. Overall this mirrored that first match, with some awkwardness but a overall a decent showing both. They’re both showing progression and improvement, which is great. Again I’m a little more keen on Manami, but Sato also shows a lot of potential and she seems to be the one the company’s more behind as she again defeated Manami.

 

 

 

In another parallel opponents from my first Sendai Girls show, Sakura Hirota & Eiger, were teaming here against Solo Darling & KAORU. Of course with this line up it was all comedy. Hirota’s humor is hit or miss for me but when it works it’s truly wonderful, and it was spot on here. From creative sequences involving Karou’s trademark wooden board to Hirota being as afraid of her partner as she was her opponents, etc this was highly amusing. At one point Hirota got Karou in position for a POWERBOMB (?!)… only to slowly walk her across the ring and set her gently down on the opposite turnbuckle. Then of course Karou kicked her in the face.  The finish was wonderfully absurd as Karou tried to block Eiger by holding her board in front of her face, but the latter knocked on it and when Karou “opened” it like a door Eiger threw powder at her. Hirota rolled up the indisposed Karou and the unlikely duo of Hirota and Eiger were victorious. Ridiculous in a lot of good ways.

 

 

 

The next match was just fifteen minutes of chaos as DASH Chisako, Mio Momono, Hiroyo Matsumoto & Alex Lee faced Aja Kong, Sammii Jayne, Heidi Katrina & Cassandra Miyagi. The brawl through the crowd wiped out seats on all four sides of the ring. Particular highlights for me included seeing Dash and Mio (not to mention Hiroyo) on the same team, and scrappy, perhaps overconfident Mio facing off against the monster that is Aja Kong. Really fun match, and as I’ve mentioned before whenever I get to see Dash’s gorgeous Hormone Splash I’m extremely happy.

 

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Mika Iwata and Hana Kimura already had a myriad of issues between them when they faced off on opposites sides of a tag match on my 1/6 show. Things had apparently continued building in the meantime and they faced off in a big singles encounter here. This was solid and they told a good, heated story, although it went a little long for the level of experience of those involved. Both looked good overall though and this felt like a big win for Mika.

 

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During my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015 on of the best matches I saw was the main event of Stardom’s Climax 2015. It featured what were then and are still two of the best wrestlers in the world wrestling for Stardom’s top prize as company ace Io Shirai challenged reigning outsider champion Meiko Satomura. I was beyond psyched when a rematch was announced for this show in Meiko’s home promotion. Seeing how it would be different over two years from their previous encounter I was lucky enough to witness live was intriguing, as is looking back on both matches now as the (slight) possibility of the two facing off in a WWE ring during the Mae Young Classic looms.

 

As should come as no surprise, this was excellent. I’m not sure Meiko can have a bad match (note to wrestlers: that’s not a challenge), and Io’s likewise a top tier talent constantly firing on all cylinders. The fact that their first match I saw was building to a big moment while this one was fairly obviously going to a time limit draw affected the structure and I think puts the prior just a touch above this one, but it was still an excellent encounter between two masters which will no doubt make my list of top matches for this trip. Meiko brings out the very best in everyone she faces, and in the case of someone who’s already performing at as high a level as Io does the results are always something special.

 

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Speaking of Meiko bringing out the best in her opponents, her #1 contenders match in the main event of the 1/6 show against fellow legend Ayako Hamada was an incredible contest that was my top match of the entire trip. In a stroke of pure luck, my return to Tokyo four months later coincided with the result of that match: Hamada getting her title shot at Chihiro Hashimoto.

 

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This was a hard hitting, all out war that saw Chihiro throw everything she had at the veteran but eventually prove unable to withstand Hamada’s assault resulting in the Wave Pro outsider claiming Sendai Girls’ top belt. At the risk of blasphemy, I actually liked this just a touch more than the semi-main. What an incredible one-two punch to end the show.

 

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Dash came out afterwards to challenge the new champion for a future championship match. Hamada had been on fire as of late, making that impending contest even more of a dream encounter. Which makes looking back on all of this even more heart wrenching. Shortly after I left Japan, and right before this scheduled match with Dash, Hamada relinquished the title due to legal issues and her home promotion of Wave fired her and scrubbed all of her matches from their online services. She was recently convicted on drug possession charges, an incredibly serious offense in Japan, and announced she will not return to wrestling. I wish her the best in recovering from this and getting the help she needs.

 

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Outside of the mix of emotions surrounding what subsequently happened with Hamada, this was incredible. Quite likely the best show of the fourteen I saw this trip, my latest experience with Sendai Girls just makes me even more excited to see more and more of their offerings.

 

Japan Cuts 2018: Ramen Shop and Night is Short, Walk On Girl

Japan Society’s annual Japan Cuts Film Festival for 2018 started on July 19th and is running through July 29th. My thoughts on films from 2015’s festival can be read starting here, 2016’s starting here, and last year’s starting here.

 

Ramen Shop (Ramen Teh)

 

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Once again I came into Japan Cuts’ opening movie unfamiliar with the director and star and without any frame of reference or preconceptions. And once again I was extremely pleased with the result. Ramen Shop is a wonderful drama where people’s lives are affected in significant ways via food and longing. It parcels its story out slowly, letting everything build from the actions and emotions of the characters in a strong example of showing versus telling. There are admittedly a couple of small oversights and parts where a little more spelling out would have been appropriate, but overall the balance of what’s implied and what’s addressed more explicitly is excellent.

The story of Masato’s (Takumi Saitoh) search for his mother’s estranged family in unfamiliar Singapore is carefully grounded and supported with his love of food and desire to understand more about the recipes that arose from the crossing of his parents cultures, as well as perfect touches of humor from Mark Lee to lighten the atmosphere whenever the film’s in danger of getting too heavy. There are serious, important topics and themes of prejudice, tragedy, acceptance and rejection, the fleeting nature of life, and parts of history often avoided that are handled extremely well, conveyed and addressed with nuance and respect by careful treatment from director Eric Khoo and excellent acting. Saitoh and Beatrice Chien have several particularly difficult, important emotional scenes and both are absolutely fantastic in them.

With the creation and love of food being so integral to the film its depiction is extremely important, and those aspects are incredible. Excellent food photography, just enough explanation of what’s being done and made, and a real sense of of why the characters relate and care so much about the creation of food all work in harmony to make these crucial elements work wonderfully.

The Q&A after the screening was great, with Khoo especially fascinating to listen to as he talked about his goals with the film, the process of working with crews and actors from two countries who couldn’t fully communicate, the uncomfortable topics he wanted to shine some light on, and several other great insights into the films creation. Saitoh was equally gracious and engaged in the conversation, and both stayed for the after party to continue to talk and meet the audience.

Overall this was a great movie and a fun night, and an excellent way to kick off this year’s festival.

 

 

Night is Short, Walk On Girl

 

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I don’t know exactly what I expected from Night is Short, Walk On Girl, but this wasn’t it. It follows college student Otome from a friend’s wedding reception out into a weird, epic night of adventures that connect and unfold in unusual, absurd ways. At times it was admittedly a bit too much for me, but I still found it interesting and engaging and it featured clever several surprises that I really should have seen coming, which is always a difficult, wonderful thing to accomplish that I adore. Also, Otome is a wonderfully strong, compelling protagonist.

A friend of mine was initially critical of certain aspects of Ramen Shop but liked it more and more the more she thought about it, and I’m having a similar experience here. It took me by surprise and while I generally enjoyed it immediately parts of it, including certain characters, content, pacing, etc, put me off a bit at first. But the more it settles in my mind and I’m able to digest it all the more I appreciate it. The animation style is striking and unique, going for exaggerated forms for emphasis often while still managing to stay grounded and create a connection with the characters. Despite some of my own conflicted and evolving feelings here Night is Short, Walk On Girl is an easy recommendation that any fan of animation should check out for themselves.

 

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Preceding this was Dreamland a five minute short film showing a constantly evolving cityscape composed of shifting rectangular shapes that felt like a kinetic M.C. Escher vision come to life. It was interesting enough, with the complex, technically precise motion paired well with the score and made for a nice pairing with the main feature.

Vibrant Imagination: The Art of Achilleas Kokkinakis

One of the best parts of Perna Studios’ excellent card sets and the vast array of phenomenal artists involved is discovering new favorites. Since my first glimpse of his vivid, eye catching art via Perna sets Achilleas Kokkinakas’ creations have become a prized part of my collection.

 

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Original art for Perna Studios’ Classic Mythology III: Goddesses set base card.

 

Achilleas’ art makes an immediate impact with deep, vibrant colors that make his subjects seem to come right off the cards. Enhancing that wonderful feeling is his masterful sense of composition and positioning, with everything in careful balance.

 

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Original art for Perna Studios’ Spellcasters II set base card.

 

Equally impressive are the minute details he manages on such small works, ranging from intricate borders and background patterns to flower petals dancing in the wind to dragons covered in tiny scales and a ton of other exquisite little touches.

 

 

My first Artist Proof from Achilleas featured a grim reaper positioned straight at the viewer, “spilling out” over the card’s frame and holding a scythe decorated with tiny skulls all over. A later one had a witch similarly coming out of frame, stunningly decorated with intricate jewels, flanked by a wonderfully done pet raven, and surrounded by gently falling Autumn leaves.

 

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Wind AP by Achilleas Kokkinakis from Perna Studios’ Elementals set.

 

As will come as no surprise for regular readers, I adore Japanese culture and art, and as such Achilleas’ Japanese themed cards from the last couple of sets have been some of my favorite pieces ever. The base card art of Benzaiten for Perna’s soon to arrive Classic Mythology III: Goddesses set is breathtaking.

 

 

I was lucky enough to get one of his gorgeous wind elemental geisha sketch cards, and adored it so much I got two APs in a similar vein but with variations based on ideas I wanted incorporated from other cards he’d done. The results were all I could have asked for.

 

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Incredible sumi ink rendition of Usagi Yojimbo on rice paper.

 

While I’ll endlessly praise Achilleas’ amazing use of color, my most recent additions showcase a different side to his art and a different corner of my personal preferences. When done well, limited color art (black and white with a single color for accents) can be amazing, and these sumi ink creations depicting Usagi Yojimbo and Yoda certainly qualify. Again the compositions are perfect, and Achilleas’ captures a genuine feeling of motion in these pieces.

 

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Incredible sumi ink rendition of Yoda on rice paper.

 

This is a newer technique for him, and his pieces are already fantastic. I can’t wait to see more of these, and of Achilleas’ art in general, as he continues to explore and push the boundaries of his craft.

Impossibly Amazing (spoiler free)

Although I haven’t seen much in recent years, I’ve always had a soft spot for and fascination with magic. So when an extremely intriguing looking show popped up at a unique venue I was familiar with I jumped at the chance to check it out. Joshua Jay’s Six Impossible Things is the most intimate, engaging, and yes, best magic show I’ve ever seen.

 

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My first time Wildrence (then The Mist) was last summer for Refuge, a competitive escape the room type experience. It was atmospheric, creative, and a lot of fun. The space itself has a lot of character, and Jay makes excellent use of it here as the audience is brought back and forth between the various rooms for each phase of his show.

 

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Everything about the show has a touch of the unusual and unique to it, including the venue, the small audience size (twenty people), the fact that the show is strictly limited one viewing ever per person, and of course the tricks themselves. I’d love to get into glorious detail about all the fantastic things I saw and the captivating way Jay utilizes the cozy setting, his mastery of showmanship and innate charisma, and a fresh approach that twists familiar tricks and elements to push his craft to new heights. But honestly it would be a disservice to anyone who wishes to check out this for themselves to spoil the sense of surprise and wonder I was fortunate enough to experience as Six Impossible Things progressed. Jay’s concept for this of creating magic to be experienced rather than just watched is implemented in a variety of ways, and the result is simply incredible. Catch this if at all possible while it lasts.

 

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Kindaichi Case Files Volume 4 Review

Each case in this manga is a stand alone mystery, and we are still very early in the series. So while reading in order will be better to understand the recurring characters, it’s not necessary to enjoy the individual stories.

After three cases finding Hajime Kindaichi during his travels matters of life and death now visit him closer to home. When an old school building is scheduled for demolition threatening letters arrive from the “Afterschool Magician,” a legend around the school with ties to seven gruesome mystery stories passed down through the years. But the threats become something worse when the mystery club starts investigating the rumors.

 

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Smoke and Mirrors is a solid blend of several plotlines that converge nicely at the end. Themes of magic and misdirection are incorporated well and provide nice layers and twists to the mystery. The ties to the school’s history and previous investigations into the seven mysteries added a good amount of intrigue to the story. As a whole I found this volume a slight step down from the previous ones, although not for any particular reason I can point to and it is still quite good. As usual there are clues throughout and while some story details will be beyond deduction the core of the mystery is solvable.

The translation of this particular mystery presented some extra difficulty for the publisher, which they handled well and explain in detail at the end.

Overall another solid installment featuring our favorite high school detective.

Japan Trip Winter 2017: Top 10+ Matches (Live)

Long overdue since summer’s arrived and I’ve already been lucky enough to travel back Japan since the trip I’m talking about here (more on that soon), but I still wanted to highlight the best matches I saw among an incredible batch of shows I saw in the Tokyo area to close out 2017 / start 2018. Also check out my favorites from past trips.

During this trip I saw 16 shows from 7 promotions with 86 matches featuring 132 different wrestlers, and the vast majority of what I saw was excellent. So even featuring my top ten eleven matches plus honorable mentions then there are still a LOT of worthy wrestlers and matches that won’t be mentioned here, and the order is highly subject to change.

Match reviews copied/modified from my show specific blogs when appropriate.

 

Here’s a breakdown of matches by company: Gatoh Move: 15 matches, Ice Ribbon: 30 matches, Marvelous: 7 matches, Sendai Girls: 5 matches, Pro Wrestling Wave (including Young OH! OH!): 12 matches, Tokyo Joshi Pro: 7 matches, and Basara/DDT:  10 matches.

 

 

Honorable mentions:

 

Balloon Match: Tsukasa Fujimoto, Miyako Matsumoto, & Karen DATE vs Kyuuri, & Novel Tornado (Satsuki Totoro & Nao DATE)  – Ice Ribbon 12/23/17

The two teams each brought several balloons to ringside with them for their 6-woman tag match. It indicated another of IR’s special stipulation matches that highlight touches of comedy and amusingly absurd match conditions while still maintaining a strong sense of competition and the essential trappings of a wrestling match. IR is one of the best promotions there is at achieving that balance. In this case the balloons were legal to use during the match, and there were numerous clever spots involving popping the balloons on and around their opponents. From various splashes onto each other with balloons wedged in between people to hard kicks popping balloons on opponents’ chests and faces, etc there was so much amusement the fact that the competitors often had to hold balloons in place on themselves was easily overlooked. Another humorous highlight was “Merry Christmas Mama Mia,” in which Miyako laid out her three opponents in a line and had her partners Tsukka and Karen follow her around the ring posing while Miyako sang “we wish you a Merry Christmas.” Of course the entire opposing team got their legs up when Miyako’s trio went for the splashes at the end.

This was my first time seeing Novel Tornado team in any capacity, and they have great chemistry and nice double teams. Kyuuri fit in well with them and the opposing trio was an equally suitable pairing. Again what I liked best is that underneath all the comedic elements was a solid, well wrestled match. And of course seeing Miyako get a rare win with a Super Mama Mia (onto a balloon of course) was a nice bonus. This was a ton of fun.

 

Mitsuru Konno vs Gatoh Move’s veterans – Gatoh Move 12/29/171/1/18, and 1/2/18

 

 

I considered trying to pick one of these for inclusion, but I loved all of them and the general vibe so much I decided instead to discuss all three as a group here. Mitsuru Konno is a Gatoh Move rookie who had just a little over a year experience at the time of this trip and who immediately impressed me when I first saw her a year prior, instantly became a personal favorite. This trip was a particular treat as I got to see her in separate singles contests against Gatoh’s Super Asia Champion Riho, founder Emi Sakura, and Emi’s tag team champion partner Masahiro Takanashi. All three matches had the same general idea of Mitsuru trying to prove herself against a vastly more experienced, sometimes dismissive veteran, yet still all felt distinct and had their own unique variations on the formula. All three matches were great, speaking both to Mitsuru’s progress/potential and to the expertise of Gatoh Move’s ring generals.

 

GEKOKU vs ActWres feud  – Ice Ribbon 12/31/17 and 1/6/18Young OH! OH! 1/8/18

 

 

Like with the previous entry I considered picking one match here (eyeing the great tag match seeing Maika Ozaki & Kyuuri face Saori Anou & Tae Honma at Ribbonmania in particular) for inclusion but instead enjoyed all parts I got to see of this feud so much I wanted to spotlight them all here. Tensions between Ice Ribbon regular Maika and her tag partner Kyuuri and Maika’s former Actwres Girlz compatriots Tae and Actwres Champion Saori were palpable every time any of the four crossed paths. The three matches I saw involving them during this trip set up an impending title shot for Maika at Saori, and a time limit draw in a singles contest and nullifying each other long enough for Wave’s Asuka to beat them both in a triple threat left things completely unresolved between Kyuuri and Tae. The whole feud continued with twists and turns (and great in ring action) until just last weekend and was my easily one of my favorite rivalries in wrestling while it lasted.

 

 

Top 10 11:

 

10. (tie)  Nao DATE vs Maruko Nagasaki – Ice Ribbon 12/31/17

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I spent a significant amount of time debating my tenth entry between two matches and finally decided it was a tie and I’d include both. The semi-main of Ice Ribbon’s biggest show of the year was their Young Ice Tournament final, and it was a great match made even better by an unexpected finish. I saw a Maruko victory as a foregone conclusion, with her vanquishing her third member of Team DATE in a row to win the tourney. So I was pleasantly shocked to see Nao take it and Ice Ribbon use the tournament to significantly elevate a new face. These are two of IR’s brightest rising stars and the match they put on certainly reflected that.

 

10. (tie) Emi Sakura, Sayaka Obihiro & Saki vs Riho, Mitsuru Konno, & Toru Owashi Gatoh Move 12/31/17

Doing a six-person tag in such a limited space is undoubtedly difficult, but of course the Gatoh Move roster is extremely familiar with such a challenge and was more than up for it. Emi Sakura, Sayaka Obihiro & Saki vs Riho, Mitsuru Konno, & Toru Owashi was fantastic. Lots of great stuff centered around Emi’s team trying to avoid / deal with the larger Toru, as well as Riho and Mitsuru trying to take the attack to their opponents. I was at the window that’s used as one of the tag corners, and amusingly they spilled out of that one instead of the other for the first time I’ve ever seen during this match. This was exciting, a little different, and flat out fun. Emi continued her habit of pinning Mitsuru to win, something she jokingly teased me about after the show.

 

 

9. Chihiro Hashimoto vs Takumi Iroha – Marvelous 12/25/17

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Takumi Iroha, who I’ve also  wrote about as someone to watch in the past, also main evented Marvelous’ Christmas show last year and is clearly being groomed / built as the central star of the promotion. Here she got a one on one non-title opportunity with Sendai Girls’ Champion Chihiro Hashimoto.

This was my first look at Chihiro, and I was definitely impressed. It’s immediately easy to see why she holds Sendai’s title. This was an excellent, hard hitting contest with Takumi and Chihiro just beating the hell out of each other and throwing each other around. Iroha’s blend of power and high flying is just incredible.

They battled all the way to the third time limit draw of the evening, which wasn’t terribly surprising given the participants. I know there might be some criticism about half the matches ending that way (one I’d normally share), but each match it happened in unfolded differently, and logically, with varying post match implications and significance. So I was actually totally fine with it all myself.

 

 

7. (tie) Tokyo Princess of Princess Title Match: Reika Saiki (c) vs Miyu Yamashita – Tokyo Joshi Pro 1/4/18

 

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In August I was lucky enough to see both Reika Saiki claim the Tokyo Princess of Princess Championship (in a fantastic contest against then champion Yuka Sakazaki) and Miyu Yamashita in a breakout performance against Meiko Satomura. The prospect of seeing the two face of here for the title was an extremely exciting one, further enhanced by the underlying story of TJP’s first champion Miyu trying to become their first 2-time champion as well at the Muscle Idol’s expense.

This was exactly the hard hitting, excellent battle I wanted from the two of them. They just laid into each other with strikes and tossed each other around until one couldn’t get up. Reika’s developed a perfect style to highlight her incredible power and just keeps getting better and better, while Miyu is really hitting her stride and learning to make the most of her wonderfully aggressive style. Great match that’s neck and neck with the tag title contest for best of the night. I was slightly disappointed to see Reika lose the belt, but Miyu’s certainly deserving and there are several interesting directions to go with her second reign.

 

 

7. (tie)  Tokyo Princess Tag Team Title Match: Yuka Sakazaki & Shoko Nakajima (c) vs MIZUKI & Riho – Tokyo Joshi Pro 1/4/18

 

 

This Tokyo Princess Tag Team Title Match was a particular treat as two of TJP’s best workers defended against TJP roster member MIZUKI and visiting Gatoh Move star Riho, a 12 year veteran at age 21 who received a well deserved superstar welcome from the crowd. Mizuki fit in very well herself and the result was an absolutely phenomenal back and forth match with a variety of brutal strikes, gorgeous double teams, and jaw dropping athleticism.

 

 

6. Gekoku (Kyuuri & Maika Ozaki) vs Best Friends (Arisa Nakajima & Tsukasa Fujimoto) – Ice Ribbon 12/24/17

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This contest seeing Gekoku getting a shot at the more experienced and decorated Best Friends was one I was greatly looking forward to. It started off interesting right away as after their entrance Kyuuri and Maika quickly had ref Mio check them (as would normally happen after both teams had entered) and snuck out of the ring back to the sides of the entrance. Then as Best Friends came out they ambushed them from behind to jump start the match. I really liked this, as it showed both aggression and perhaps a bit of desperation from a great team that unfortunately hasn’t had much success lately facing formidable opponents. Little touches like Maika shushing the crowd to not give away their intentions were great.

This was simply a great match. I really wish Gekoku had pulled out the upset, as there were a lot more interesting ways to go with that result, but they had a strong showing against one of the best tag teams in the world regardless.

 

5. Riho vs Yasu Urano  – Basara 12/28/17

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I went to this show primarily to see Riho, and as always she certainly didn’t disappoint. Her match against Yasu Urano was great, with Urano being a little dismissive but needed to take things seriously as Riho was unfazed at his 8 inch and 90 pound advantage and took the fight right to him.

I mentioned Riho’s extensive experience above, and she’s an expert at making the story of her match believable. In this special environment (all opening round matches of this tournament were no-rope matches with victory by pinfall, submission, or ring-out) against a larger opponent that meant using her quickness and aggressiveness to counter the size discrepancy. Her never say die approach here made this engrossing, and Urano was also perfect as the bully realizing he might have more bit off more than he could handle. They had some great exchanges around/near the ringposts and edges. My favorite finish of the night saw Riho hit a spinning sunset flip near the ring’s edge, and Urano emphatically kick out just before 3… sending himself out of the ring and giving Riho the win. Great stuff.

 

 

4. Regina di Wave Title Match: Misaki Ohata (c) vs Yumi Ohka Wave 12/29/17

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The main event of Wave’s biggest show of the year saw two favorites of mine battling for the Regina di Wave championship as Misaki Ohata defended against Yumi Ohka.

This was a fantastic, hard hitting match that went back and forth until Ohka just kicked Ohata in the face until she couldn’t get up. I was a little disappointed for Ohata since I hoped for a longer title reign, but I expect the title to change at Thanksgiving Wave, it was a nice moment for Ohka, and Ohata won it back in short order. Misaki really sold disappointment and dejection afterwards, a theme that would continue later when she came up just short of back to back Zan-1 fan vote victories, edged out by the retiring Mika Iida.

 

3. DASH Chisako & KAORU vs Chikayo Nagashima & Megumi YabushitaMarvelous 12/25/17

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Marvelous’ Christmas show this year had a theme of inter-faction matches, one of which saw W-Fix fight amongst themselves to determine a leader. The referee immediately explained given the tendencies of the people involved she wasn’t going to bother with silly things like rules and this became no DQ.

I’m a huge fan of Dash in general so it’s always a treat to see her, and the remainder of the participants are other veterans capable of magic on the right night. This was certainly it. The match was incredible, with the teammates going all out in a war using all of their trademark heel antics on each other and just flat out trying to win, which had the crowd giving them all big face reactions if just for one night. It totally worked in a way that will let them go right back to being booed as needed on the next show. And any match that ends with Dash’s picture perfect frog splash (the “Hormone Splash”) is even better. 🙂 My match of the night, and one of my favorites of the whole trip.

The pinfall gave Dash leadership of W-Fix, but she immediately ceded it to her partner Kaoru. Karou then presented the team with matching jackets as Christmas presents. In gratitude they swarmed her with a group hug declaring “Best Leader!” The whole sequence amused me to no end.

 

 

2.  Dangerous Wave: SAKI & KAORU vs Ryo Mizunami & Rina YamashitaWave 12/29/17

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This was an incredible hardcore brawl. Kaoru’s at her best in hardcore matches, and similar to the W-Fix match I just mentioned she was completely in her element here. Avid Rival (Mizunami & Misaki Ohata) is my favorite tag team in wrestling right now, but I have to admit the pairing of Mizunami and Rina is nearly as good and a team I really want to see more often. And the more I see Saki the more I think she’s generally underrated, and I am thrilled to see her wrestling more frequently recently.

This was pretty much INSANE, with Mizunami swinging a car tire around (and throwing it from inside the ring towards Karou when she was right in front of me), a bicycle getting involved, people flying off ladders, etc. I wish they would tone down things just a little, like the finish where Saki took a nasty powerbomb on chairs and seemed to come up a little loopy, but overall this was an amazing performance from all four and a definite highlight of the night as well as my trip.

 

 

1. Ayako Hamada vs Meiko Satomura – Sendai Girls 1/6/18

 

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The main event of my first ever Sendai Girls’ show featured my most anticipated match of the trip as two legends did battle one on one.

The preview of this in a tag match at Thanksgiving Wave was a perfect way to amp up anticipation, which was already through the roof considering who was involved. With the #1 contendership on the line there was even more urgency. Hamada seemed to be building up to a title shot, and indeed she eventually prevailed over Meiko after an absolutely brutal match. Totally the expected phenomenal showing from two masters, and it was a privilege to be there for it.

It’s bittersweet to look back on this given Hamada’s personal problems and Wave’s seeming erasure of her from their history, but this was the best match I saw this trip and I wanted to properly acknowledge it as such.

 

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That does it for this trip. Hope you enjoyed reading about these great matches. Everything I’ve mentioned is well worth seeking out if possible.