Japan Cuts 2017: Over the Fence Review

Japan Society’s annual Japan Cuts Film Festival for 2017 started on July 13th and is ran through July 23rd. My thoughts on 2015’s festival can be read starting here and on last year’s starting here. This year I’ve previously seen and reviewed Mumon, Tokyo Idols, and The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue.

 

Divorcé Yoshio Shiraiwa (Joe Odagiri) has settled into days spent at a vocational school learning carpentry as part of his unemployment benefits agreement. When a fellow student invites him out to pitch something better, an unusual bar hostess (mating) dances into his awareness.

 

overthefence

 

Over the Fence is another adaptation of Yasushi Sato’s short stories of the northern port city of Hakodate. I’ve previously seen one of the other two, The Light Shines Only There, which was one of my favorite films of 2015’s Japan Cuts. This is another story about two broken people coming together, but it feels quite different. We learn less about what causes the leads’ character flaws here, and the situations and personalities involved are simultaneously more low key and stranger. It also seems a bit lighter overall, despite heavy themes and volatile dramatic scenes.  The humor’s well integrated and the acting superb, particularly from both leads. Yu Aoi (playing the eccentric Satoshi Tamura) has numerous intense and/or weird scenes and traits to convey, and her devotion and skill in doing so makes even absurd spectacles like her frequent recreating of bird mating dances captivating.

Unfortunately the plot doesn’t quite do justice to her masterful performance. More background was needed for Satoshi to help explain her point of view and actions. It wasn’t enough to demonstrate that she’s (partially) crazy, that she knows it, and it deeply bothers her (all of which were done quite explicitly and appropriately).  Some context was needed as to how she got to that point for the conflicts between her and Yoshio to resonate properly, and to make her a fully formed character instead of being defined by a single, negative characteristic (even if it manifests in a few different ways). What should have been powerful scenes often seem like weirdness and conflict for its own sake. Aoi did an amazing job with what she was given, but the plot let her character down.

The core story and its unique perspective were interesting, the acting excellent, and the key scenes filled with emotion. But there are some slow parts, and again the film’s main weakness is not giving the viewers enough background to truly connect to the characters and empathize with their struggles. As such this was a decent movie that could have been great with tweaks to the pacing and writing.

 

Actor Joe Odagira received Japan Cut’s Cut Above award before the screening and had a Q&A afterwards. The questions were varied this time, with honestly a lot of stuff that would have been more appropriate to ask a director, not the lead actor. He broke out laughing a couple of times as he tried to process what he was being asked, but generally responded well and made the most of each to say something interesting (or at least a polite acknowledgement, as in a gracious response to someone who raised their hand to complain about the editing).

 

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I’ll be back later with thoughts on two more films from this year’s festival.

NYAFF 2017: Mrs. K Review

Last year at New York Asian Film Festival I went to a screening of the wonderful anime film Miss Hokusai. This year’s NYAFF is winding down and yesterday I saw the Malaysian action movie Mrs. K.

 

Note: I general try to keep reviews relatively spoiler free, but I will be addressing some general trends and developments in the plot here.

 

mrsk

 

Although admittedly previously unfamiliar with star actress Kara Wai, it’s easy to immediately recognize the experience and skill she possesses once she takes the screen. Her portrayal of the titular housewife with a secret past is nicely nuanced and shines in the early portions of the film when she’s confidently displaying a dangerous edge lurking below cheerful, comedic moments. If this is indeed her last action role, in a lot of ways is an appropriate one to go out on. Particularly affecting are the downright BRUTAL fight scenes, loaded with hatred and really feeling like the characters are trying to kill each other instead of the dance like choreography sometimes used that would have been horribly out of place in this film. They’re uncomfortable to watch in parts, but perfect for the story and extremely well done.

The acting is excellent in general, with the supporting cast matching Wai’s level in their portrayals of both friend and foe. I’d like to give special mention to young actress Siow Li Xuan, portraying Mrs. K’s daughter in a role that required a delicate balance of determination and fear. She’s does an incredible job and seems like a big star in the making. Her perilous situations and the accompanying danger is one part of the tense atmosphere the movie generates and maintains with intimidating villains, slow building dread, and harsh confrontations.

The plot is where I think the previously mentioned excellent elements are let down. Specifically in the lead role. The idea seemed to be a return to her old ways for the titular Mrs. K when her past comes back to haunt her. Several descriptions of the movie talk about “a woman who will do anything to protect her husband and daughter.” The problem is she’s entirely reactive in her efforts to deal with the threat (which she initially underestimates, somewhat causing the problem in the first place), and largely ineffective in what she does attempt. In a lot of ways she’s as much a victim as her kidnapped daughter. Yes, she puts up a hell of a fight at every turn and shows great devotion to trying to set things right, but her daughter is a hundred times more proactive in trying to get away than her mother is in trying to rescue her and the biggest hero moments of the film are given to Mrs. K’s husband (a gynecologist who’s only previous familiarity with guns or violence came from being taught by his wife).

I’ll stop there to avoid even more explicit plot details, but the story progression seemed off overall and changes to either a few of the resolutions or more explanation of why characters acted as they did would have done wonders. There were also few instances of the antagonists’ actions not making a whole lot of sense, seemingly for the sake of having a cool scene, and the pacing felt uneven to the point of distraction in places.

It’s a bit of a shame, as again things like the daughter’s personal arc, the visceral, brutal fights, and imaginative, striking visuals are excellent. And Wai’s performance as Mrs. K’s is fantastic. I just can’t help but think of how much better this could have been with some tweaks to give her more to work with and make the main character’s story and struggle as strong as the actress playing her.

 

Japan Cuts 2017: Tokyo Idols and The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue Review

Japan Society’s annual Japan Cuts Film Festival for 2017 started on July 13th and is running through July 23rd. My thoughts on 2015’s festival can be read starting here, on last year’s starting here, and on the opening film Mumon: The Land of Stealth here.

 

Tokyo Idols

 

tokyoidols

 

“This isn’t a fad. It’s a religion.”

Man, there’s a lot to unpack with this one, and a good deal of it is unsettling. Kyoko Miyake’s documentary of Japan’s idol culture provides a stark examination that is as fascinating as it is thought provoking.

Miyake’s camera and even handed approach isn’t judgmental when dealing with individuals and their stories, giving them room to share their views and answer questions as they see fit. But she’s more than willing to put subjects on the spot with pointed questions, and the general structure and flow of the movie provide a critical viewpoint.  She knows there are troubling aspects and issues to explore and lets a matter of fact approach to documenting her subjects bring them to light.

One of the most interesting things about the movie is how much there is to it. It continued past several seemingly natural stopping points to present numerous new layers for consideration. Using one idol’s story as an anchor throughout the movie while interspersing looks at other groups and fandoms gives her film excellent scope and structure . The narrative form is fantastic, with extremely powerful points often made in simple manners such as by translating select portions of the lyrics the idols are singing to their fans.

From an outsider’s perspective some of the scenes we’re extremely uncomfortable, even though things are set up to be safe for the performers. I’m tending towards the apparent tilt of the movie that there’s more negative than positive, but it presents a lot to think about on both sides. Comments from stars, their families, and fans as to the culture and what they think the positives are interweave nicely with societal experts’ comments about the negative effect they think it’s having on Japan’s society and gender dynamics. The careful tightrope Miyake walks along with her excellent sense of how to put everything together makes this a real gem.

 

The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue

 

nightsky

 

The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue, a story of two eccentric loners stumbling into each others spheres of existence was interesting but odd. The filmmaking is front and center in a way that often calls attention to itself. Characters’ points of view and emotional states are reflected with an often blurring camera, extreme close ups of object and unusually cut off frames, and even some sections of animation. Some of it works really well and adds a lot to the movie, and some of it doesn’t and simply breaks any building immersion.

The two leads (Sosuke Ikematsu and Shizuka Ishibashi) were excellent and their acting raised this above the interesting but uneven execution. They imbued their characters with something extremely endearing, major flaws and all. This wasn’t a favorite of mine, but I think I liked it overall.

Japan Cuts 2017: Mumon: The Land of Stealth Review

“I know everyone is expecting to see cool ninjas. These are not those ninjas.”

Japan Society’s annual Japan Cuts Film Festival for 2017 started on July 13th and is running through July 23rd. My thoughts on 2015’s festival can be read starting here, and on last year’s starting here.

Mumon’s home of Iga is a territory of mercenary ninjas who care little of anything but practice and pay, and certainly not about each other. Mumon’s among the best and greediest (in attempts to impress and satisfy his bride), and sees little value in anything outside his immediate sphere. But an ambitious warlord’s son’s hopes to complete domination of the countryside will have repercussions for everyone.

 

mumon

 

Not being previously familiar with the director nor the star, I came into Japan Cuts 2017’s opening movie without any framework or preconceptions. It’s an engrossing tale that both embraces and subverts the conventions of being a period piece and ingeniously blends a variety of tones, themes, and genres. It develops at a excellent pace, keeping things moving with humor and action while deeper themes and schemes are slowly formed and revealed.

The balance is pitch perfect throughout and the juxtaposition of intense, visceral scenes of drama and violence and a light touch of comedic moments. I was really impressed with how it all came together and with the heavy themes of money, duty, and what’s really important that were expertly woven within the overlaying war conflict plot and often over the top (and amusing) battles. Even some individual conflicts  turn on a dime from humor to poignant, unsettling drama seamlessly and effectively.

One of the key successes of the movie is that both sides of the conflict have characters with complex motivations and goals that change throughout as said personal considerations come into conflict and new points of view and information are presented to each of them. It’s wonderfully acted, with a handful of key people on each side anchoring the story and providing logical progression for each film’s major changes in direction.

Director Yoshihiro Nakamura introduced the film (including the wonderful quote I opened with), participated in a Q&A afterwards, and met with fans during the after party. He was friendly and approachable, and seemed genuinely excited to be there. His answers during the Q&A were quite interesting and gave some nice further insight into the film.

Really enjoyed this one overall. Great start to the festival.

 

Update: There is a Japanese translation of this review. Thanks to Junko Czerny!

Ice Ribbon Vol. 740 & 741 DVD Review

This is another disc where I don’t know much about the results and sought it out based on a few matches of particular interest. Should be interesting.

 

Vol 740: August 6, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan

 

 

1) Miyako Matsumoto & Tequila Saya vs 235 & Maika Ozaki **1/2

Straight to the action this time, with no opening promo shown. Maika’s wrestling in red shorts and a yellow t-shirt that look like workout clothes, which leaves me wondering if she hadn’t established her regular gear this early into her time at Ice Ribbon or just didn’t have it for this show. 

Miyako was amusingly the theme for the whole match, as even when she wasn’t in the ring or on offense more often than not someone was doing something mimicking her. Early on Saya makes 235 do the Mama Mia pose in honor of her partner, but doesn’t know what to do next. Miyako yells instructions (or possible just complaints) at her while 235 gets free and slams her. Later 235 executes the Mama Mia on Miyako herself. Mio’s the ref here, and another amusing moment saw her refusing to help Miyako balance for the Super Mama Mia, leaving the Dancing Queen a sitting duck on the top rope for Maika to grab for a torture rack.

There was an interesting mini-story for Miyako and Saya here, as early in the match the usual theme of Miyako never quite being able to do teamwork right is prevalent, but near the end it’s their opponents who miscommunicate and they actually work well together to take advantage. 

After a shining wizard for 2, Miyako absolutely SPIKES Maika with Angel’s Wings for the win. That’s always been one of my favorite finishers, and Miyako winning is always a pleasant surprise.

There were a couple awkward exchanges, but this was solid overall. The action was kept pretty basic, particularly involving Maika, but everyone fit their roles and strong effort plus Miyako related antics made this fun.

 

 

2) Maruko Nagasaki vs Kaho Kobayashi ***

Should be a good contest here, as both wrestlers show skills beyond their experience (three years for Kaho and one for Maruko). QUICK, crisp exchange of leapfrogs, trips, and rolls to open that already has the crowd oohing and aahing. Kaho takes over with some hard strikes and keeps control for a while, including a sequence of whipping Maruko back and forth between opposite corners and following each time with a running dropkick five times. Kaho makes Maruko claw and scrape to get to the ropes to break a half crab.

Forearm exchange fires Maruko up, and she takes over with three consecutive running dropkicks. Boston Crab of her own transitioned into half crab and now Kaho has to pull all of Maruko’s weight to the ropes. She’s SCREAMING here to sell the pain and it really helps emphasis her struggle.

Ripcord elbow by Kaho for 2. Missile dropkick for 2. fisherman countered into a small package for 2. Kaho headlock takeover and has one of Maruko’s arms trapped with her legs. They’re both working this and making it seem like a legit submission attempt instead of the usual control opponent on the mat type of thing. Maruko strains and just barely gets a foot on the ropes. After some back and forth pinfall reversals, Kaho reverses Maruko’s signature rollup for the win.

They did a lot here with the time given. Both have a lot of natural ability and potentially big careers ahead of them.

 

 

3) Misaki Ohata vs Kyuuri ***1/2

It’s a long time favorite of mine here against my favorite rising star, so this is one of the matches I was most excited about when getting this DVD. Also interesting is the fact that these two were partners in main event of the previous volume.

Misaki dominates an opening mat wrestling exchange, constantly switching to a new hold whenever Kyuuri tries to free herself or reverse. When Kyuuri finally manages to tie Misaki up, the latter pulls her hair for leverage to reverse into a pinning combination for 2. They square up again to applause.

Collar and elbow tie up is immediately turned into a headlock by Misaki. Kyuuri fights out of this one with forearms instead of continuing the counter wrestling, but after she sends Misaki to the ropes she eats a shoulder tackle on the rebound. Misaki hits the ropes again and Kyuuri drops down, but Misaki holds on to stop herself then just stomps on Kyuuri’s back. Kyuuri gets up and Ohata charges with a clothesline. Kyuuri ducks then rebounds off the ropes with a crossbody for her first real offensive move of the match. It only gets 1.

Kyuuri follows with a snapmare then steps over Ohata’s shoulder with one leg and pulls back on both arms. Ohata seems trapped and in pain, which is an important detail. Odd bit follows where Kyuuri puts her foot on the rope for leverage (or possibly to keep her balance) and ref Mio counts, but when Kyuuri removes her foot she’s allowed to keep the hold on. A couple seconds later Misaki gets her foot on the ropes and this time Kyuuri has to completely break.

Back to the center, Misaki’s face down and Kyuuri gets on her back for a camel clutch. Misaki hides her arms beneath her to block it, so Kyuuri slaps her back hard and grabs an arm when Misaki flinches. Repeat for the other arm. Nice bit. Kyuuri signals for the cheek pinch taunt, but Misaki’s having none of it, as she frees herself by sliding backwards through Kyuuri’s legs, tripping her in the process into position so Misaki can apply her own camel clutch and execute the intended taunt on Kyuuri instead.

She smacks Kyuuri upside the head as she breaks, hits a couple strikes as Kyuuri gets up, then hairtosses her across the ring a couple times. Kyuuri’s seated in corner and Misaki stands on her to choke. Scoop slam in the center and Misaki covers for 2 with just one knee across Kyuuri’s chest. Hard curbstomp follows and Misaki sits on Kyuuri’s chest this time in another cocky cover for 2.  Mocking, dismissive kicks to the back of the head as Kyuuri tries to stand. Great arrogant touches being shown by Ohata that suit the story they’re telling. As mentioned she’s one of my favorite wrestlers and yet after these last couple of minutes I want to see Kyuuri kick her ass.

Misaki hits the ropes and charges Kyuuri but runs right into a beautiful judo takedown. Kyuuri capitalizes with a trio of slingblades for 2, and when Misaki kicks out Kyuuri uses the momentum to apply an armbar. I can’t stress enough how much I adore that spot. Misaki rolls through but Kyuuri hangs on and reapplies it, but they’re too close to the ropes and Misaki simply extends her leg to reach them for the quick break.

Fisherman attempt by Kyuuri countered with a knee to the gut followed by a DDT. Kyuuri’s down in the corner, which means it’s time for Misaki’s crossbody. It connects and Misaki goes up and sits on the top turnbuckle. Kyuuri clearly hasn’t scouted Misaki enough, as when the latter taunts Kyuuri she runs straight towards Misaki going for a forearm, which Misaki of course catches and leans back with Kyuuri’s arm for her trademark rope suspended armbar.

Mio reaches 4 on the count and Misaki releases, taking a moment while still upside down to start a clap to fire the crowd up. She then sits back up to a standing position on the middle turnbuckle and hits a missile dropkick. Misaki then goes right for a cross armbreaker. Kyuuri gets her hands clasped and tries to roll Misaki over, so Misaki slams Kyuuri’s arm into the mat instead. Both wrestlers trying to shake their arms out from the damage done so far.

Misaki hits the ropes and goes for the crossbody to the seated Kyuuri. Kyuuri rolls through though, and in a great move doesn’t stop once she’s in cover position but keeps rolling a little more until Misaki’s arm is exposed and applies a key lock. Misaki’s going CRAZY trying to get to the ropes and screaming in pain. She makes it but as soon as Kyuuri breaks she goes for the arm trap submission. Misaki counters with a rollup for 2. As they get up from that Kyuuri grabs a small package for 2.

Kyuuri ducks a clothesline and kicks at Misaki’s arm, then hits the ropes … and Misaki lands the spinning double sledge on the rebounding Kyuuri and the latter falls like a chopped down tree. Misaki covers for a close 2.

Misaki’s looking for the cross armbreaker again, which Kyuuri beautifully counters into a stretch muffler. Ohata’s screaming again and flailing around to try to escape, and ends up forcing Kyuuri down by getting a leg around her head. She uses it to get free, grabs an arm and rolls Kyuuri over and stretches out behind her shoulders.

That position can only mean one thing, and it’s bad news for Kyuuri. Indeed, one arm gets locked up by Misaki’s right leg, the other trapped and over extended by Misaki’s arms, Misaki’s left leg goes around Kyuuri’s head and that’s the Fairy Lock completed which quickly gives Misaki a submission victory.

 

This contest was all about Kyuuri being largely outmatched by the crafty veteran but resilient and still dangerous because of her submission skills. I wish she was portrayed more evenly in matches like this because she has the ability to be credible in that role, but her career is still relatively young so this is how it goes sometimes.

That said, despite me wanting this to be something a bit different the story was a solid one and as expected these two worked it wonderfully. Misaki was dominant early which gave her a reason to be cocky in the middle, but throughout Kyuuri still looked like a credible threat because Misaki completely freaked out every time Kyuuri got her in a submission. That was so important and kudos to both for hitting that point hard a few times during the match.

I’m also a big fan of good counter mat wrestling with cool submissions and they definitely provided that here. Great little match overall. Would love to see something longer between these two in the future.

 

 

4) Risa Sera & Tsukushi vs Maya Yukihi & Ryo Mizunami ***

Intriguing teams with normal partners Azure Revolution (Risa and Maya) on opposite sides, and they start against each other. Tentative counter wrestling to open, which eventually leads to a stalemate spot, but instead of giving room Maya kicks Risa in the face. Big “ooh” from crowd but Risa looks amused. That doesn’t last long though as Maya tags Mizunami and the latter just pounds on Risa for a bit, building up to wiping Risa out with one of her monster shoulder tackles.

On getting up Risa manages to push Ryo into the corner and tag Tsukushi. The little imp tries to hairtoss Mizunami, and when that doesn’t work due to Ryo’s short hair she grabs Mizunami’s EARS instead to throw her across the ring by. I hope Mizunami spears the brat out of her boots. Tsukushi tries to followup with a scoop slam, but the much larger Mizunami just set her weight to block, then picks up Tsukushi, holds her in the air with one arm, fires up the crowd, does a squat, walks around, and finally slams her. Go Ryo! Jumping legdrop gets 2.

Tag to Maya and after a few strikes Mizunami comes back in for a double submission. Once they break that Maya picks Tsukushi up but gets surprised with a scoop slam, Tsukushi runs over to land a shot on Mizunami on the apron for some retribution and then tags out to Risa. Hairtoss by Risa and then she chokes her regular partner in the corner while Tsukushi helps from the apron. That’s just mean.

Azure Revolution fight each other over a scoop slam until Maya finally gets it and tags Mizunami. She knocks Risa off the apron and has Maya hold Risa in the corner for her power up, “kiss the fist” shot, but spends so much time taunting Tsukushi recovers and dropkicks Mizunami as she starts to run. Maya tries to hold both opponents against the ropes for Mizunami, but they get free and Ryo knocks her own partner to the floor instead.

Risa and Tsukushi hit the far ropes and run at Mizunami, then Risa stops just shy of Ryo as Tsukushi hits a dropkick. Seemed like Risa and Ryo were too close together for Risa to do her half of a double dropkick and she decided against trying (or she was expecting to do a different doubleteam and stopped herself when Tsukushi jumped). Looked odd but much better than doing something haphazardly, and Tsukushi connected so it came off ok.

Back to just Tsukushi and Ryo, and the former ties the latter up in the ropes and abuses her for a bit. Ryo’s down in the center and Tsukushi and Risa alternate doing Tsukushi’s “run on opponent’s back” spot, but in a great moment when Tsukushi goes for her second turn Ryo stands up and sends Tsukushi flying. Then she wipes out Risa with a running forearm for good measure.

Tsukushi tries to get the wheelbarrow roll, but the powerhouse just sets herself and holds Tsukushi in midair as the latter flails, then reverses into a gorgeous release German. Trio of rapid fire legdrops gets 2. Ryo calls for the lariat, which is ducked and Tsukushi looks really proud of herself for the hard forearm she lands… until Ryo responds in kind and she tumbles to her knees.

They continue in this vein and I love variations on the standard forearm exchange where like this they really emphasize the individuals involved. Tsukushi is hitting hard but can’t really budge the larger Mizunami, where every shot Mizunami lands knocks Tsukushi over. Tsukushi switches it up with seventeen in a row and a slap to the face, which Mizunami absorbs and levels Tsukushi again. ANOTHER fourteen and a slap from Tsukushi as Ryo just yells back at her in between. But she has worn down the monster a bit and Ryo’s up against the ropes for support.

Tsukushi’s whip attempt is reversed and when she rebounds off the far ropes Mizunami tilt-a-whirls her… up into a torture rack?! I’ve never seen that transition before, and it’s really sweet. Tsukushi reverses into a wheelbarrow and gets the roll into the doublestomp this time. Missile dropkick to follow and she gets 2, then tags Risa.

Mizunami fights off Ayers Rock, lands a few forearms, turns towards the ropes… then turns back around and hits Risa a few more times. Ryo covered well but I bet someone was out of position. After the extra strikes Ryo does go to bounce off the ropes she looked at earlier and wouldn’t you know it Tsukushi’s back up in her corner now and nails Mizunami with a kick to the back from the apron, then grabs her head and drops her across the ropes to set up a 619 from Risa. Risa’s suspended Boston Crab follows, then the double knee drop to the back for 2.

Mizunami whipped to the corner. Running hip check drops her down for the running double knees and another 2 count. As Risa picks Mizunami up the latter spins Risa up onto her shoulders but Risa drops behind into a waistlock. Elbows from Mizunami to break. Risa blocks a forearm and hits one of her own, then a running one, but Mizunami responds with a flurry of them ending with the fist kiss shot. Hard clothesline against the ropes. Risa catches her with a dropkick when she tries to follow up, but then charges into a powerslam for 2. Mizunami tags out and Maya hits a knee and a standing kick to Risa’s chest for 2.

Forearm exchange leads to Maya hitting several as Risa dares her for more, then when Maya hits the ropes Risa drop toeholds her into a pinning combination, then slickly goes right into an octopus hold when Maya kicks out.

Mizunami blasts by Tsukushi and attacks Risa to break it up. Risa takes exception and knocks Ryo off the apron as she exits, then hits the ropes but runs right into a leg lariat for 2. Maya kick blocked, Risa picks her up, swings her around to be across Risa’s back, and drops her down in a side slam for 2. Tag to Tsukushi. Corner dropkick, hits the ropes and runs into a tilt a whirl backbreaker by Maya. Sharpshooter, but Risa fights past Mizunami just enough to kick Maya in the head to break.

Another forearm exchange, rather lopsided this time as Tsukushi’s still laying them in so hard the audience gasps which makes Maya’s look a little weak in comparison. Tsukushi hits a stunner that send Maya backwards into the ropes. Risa double knees followed by Tsukushi dropkick to the seated Maya.

Risa up to the second turnbuckle. Tsukushi climbs the top behind her. Now up on Risa’s shoulders … double stomp from there to Maya. Mizunami saves at 2. Tsukushi hits the ropes and Ryo pushes Maya out of the way and levels Tsukushi with a lariat. Kick to the face from Maya for 2. Maya hits the chokslam but Risa saves at 2. Maya lifts Tsukushi up into lawn dart position but she wiggles free down Maya’s back, rolls through, and gets La Magistral cradle for a close 2. Maya rolls Tsukushi up, but Risa kicks out from where Ryo’s holding her to break it at 2.

Tsukushi overhand backslide position, jumps up into a sunset flip and floats over for a pin, but Maya immediately counters back the other way for 2. During this kickout Risa kicks at Maya and doesn’t quite connect so she kicks again, but by this time they’re already in a different position so Risa accidentally kicks her partner in the back and breaks up her own team’s pin. Tsukushi and Maya roll through that into another pin attempt for Maya for 2.

Risa and Ryo are completely wrapped up with each other in the corner. Maya hits the ropes and runs into a basement dropkick by Tsukushi. Tsukushi then stands behind Maya’s head and rolls her forward for a pin. She doesn’t get a hold of Maya’s legs and can’t reach them once they’re on the mat, so Maya essentially has to pull her own legs up into Tsukushi’s hands to be held down for the 3 count.

This was a good match that had some awkwardness but also some really great sequences. They generally covered pretty well for the imperfections and thus nothing was too jarring. All four had moments to shine, although the best sections featured Mizunami vs Tsukushi.

 

Roundtable features the usual promos and hype, plus Tsukushi being a brat to Avid Rival. She gives Misaki a hug but makes faces while she does, then offers one to Mizunami but slaps her in the face instead when she goes to accept.

 

Vol 741: August 13, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan

 

 

1) Hamuko Hoshi & Maika Ozaki vs Mochi Miyagi & Tequila Saya **3/4

Like last volume this opens with Maika (again in t-shirt and shorts) and Saya on opposite sides of a tag team contest. The difference here (beyond just different partners) is their respective partners are themselves a regular tag team.

Early story was Hammy and Maika dominating Saya with their size and power, with spots of the latter countering with speed. Saya’s developing great instincts for playing the underdog babyface, and it suits her ring style and charisma too as she’s really able to fire the crowd up.

They had some fun with the Lovely Butchers’ trademark posing as Maika applied a camel clutch on Saya while Hammy poses in front of her to taunt, then it was reversed and repeated with Saya holding Maika and Mochi posing. Later on the one segment where the Butchers faced off against each other was pretty much all them doing their signature moves to each other.

Mochi really had her working boots on here so to speak. Everything she did looked impactful and crisp, particularly during an extended working over of Maika that included Alex Shelley’s thrusting pushup facebuster and a trio of HARD Earthquake splashes.

The finish came with the Butchers fighting outside. After fighting out of the torture rack and getting a rollup for 2, Saya blocks a clothesline and looks like she’s going to duck under and use Maika’s arm for leverage for a backslide. But Maika sells the block by going down backwards and takes Saya tumbling with her. Both roll through and right back up like it was exactly what they planned, and Saya grabs a tight inside cradle variation for the win. Nice save there by the (relative) rookies.

Again Maika largely stuck to the basics and looked fine. These outings almost felt like tryouts for her. Looking it up she had about 5 matches in Ice Ribbon prior to these. I’ve seen matches from her later in the year where she’s powering people around more and looking like a monster, so it’s interesting to go back a bit and see her development. Decent match overall, with Mochi and Saya standing out the most.

 

 

2) Tsukushi vs Kyuuri ***3/4

Counter wrestling to start with the veteran largely getting the better of Kyuuri, similar to her match with Misaki last volume. The difference here is even the small Kyuuri makes Tsukushi look tiny, so the visuals and general dynamic are different.

They do some nice back and forth with their signatures spots. First Tsukushi does her running on her downed opponent’s back sequence, but on the third attempt Kyuuri trips her and returns the favor. Then Kyuuri goes for a camel clutch and her pinching cheeks taunting, but like Misaki did Tsukushi backs out, trips Kyuuri, applies her own camel clutch and does it to Kyuuri instead. Then she transitions into her own standard taunt of pulling back on her opponent’s nose. Tsukushi then ties her up in the ropes but as she claps to get the crowd fired up Kyuuri breaks free, ties up Tsukushi instead, and finally gets the taunt. Kyuuri hits the far ropes and dropkicks the tied up Tsukushi.

The match continues in the same vein to great effect. At one point Tsukushi goes for her dropkick with Kyuuri sitting against ropes, but Kyuuri moves and Tsukushi lands across bottom rope half outside of the ring. Tsukushi does a similar crossbody to seated opponent as Misaki, and when she went for that Kyuuri countered same way she did Misaki by rolling through into a keylock.

In contrast Kyuuri connected with most of her signature moves when attempted. The judo throw, triple slingblades, the armtrap submission, etc. When she did the rolling Fishermans Tsukushi tried to counter the third into a rollup, but Kyuuri rolled right back the other way and powered her over to complete it.

So faced with an opponent that was largely countering Tsukushi’s moves and landing her own, the veteran was forced to get creative with rollups and holds, and wait for the right moments to try her trademarks again. In one great bit she backslides Kyuuri into position for a triangle choke that the latter spends a long time in before making the ropes. They also have a wonderfully fierce forearm exchange at one point. Both throw them with the force of someone several times their size.

Towards the end Kyuuri flashes her own deadly submission skills, with Tsukushi appropriately screaming when Kyuuri cranked on her arm.

Tsukushi eventually takes control by drop toeholding Kyuuri into the ropes and manages to NAIL the seated dropkick she missed earlier. Kyuuri looks done and Tsukushi goes up and hits a top rope double stomp, but Kyuuri barely kicks out to stay alive to a big ovation. Tsukushi goes for reverse triangle to put the upstart away, but the time limit expires and we have a draw.

 

This is exactly the competitive showing I wanted Kyuuri to get. It had a great story, and the time limit draw was a pleasant surprise as I expected a Tsukushi victory. Excellent ten minute match. Like with Kyuuri and Misaki, I’d love to see a longer rematch sometime.

 

 

3) Kurumi Hiiragi & Maya Yukihi vs Risa Sera & Maruko Nagasaki **1/2

Another match with Azure Revolution opposite each other. Risa’s team won last time, let’s see if Maruko’s as successful a partner for her as Tsukushi was. I’m guessing not, as of these four Maruko’s the most likely to take the pin.

Back and forth criss cross, arm drags, etc between Maya and Maruko to open, but Maruko quickly becomes face in peril after that. Kurumi and Maya have nice chemistry as team, and the sections of them in control were quite good.

There was an odd spot where Maruko tries to call Risa in to help once she has control on Kurumi, and Risa just moves down the ring apron and looks at Maruko instead (as if she thought Maruko just wanted her to stand in a different corner). I don’t get the joke there. I guess it seemed like a “Risa doesn’t understand what’s going on” joke (which is quite silly for someone of her experience). Maruko ends up attacking Kurumi without Risa and shoots the latter a look of disbelief as she tags out. Then Risa comes in, gets leveled by a couple shoulder tackles, and looks shocked and uncertain what to do next each time. Whatever character beat Risa’s trying to play in this match I’m not digging it. On the plus side, her more serious stuff was cool, including later getting the hanging Boson Crab on Kurumi in an admittedly cool show of strength.

Generally every time someone started to get better of Kurumi, she used her own strength to take back over. She’s really portrayed as a force of nature, and it suits her.

Azure Revolution had a nice sequence in middle against each other featuring good back and forth countering, etc. The more I see them in make-shift tag matches like these the more I think I like them as opponents much more than as partners. They have better chemistry when wrestling against each other than they do as a team.

Maruko did a good job getting the crowd behind her both with resilience in the face of Kurumi’s assaults and moves like a perfectly timed surprise rollup nearfall when getting beat on by Maya and a swank slingshot elbow from the apron.

Kurumi eventually wore Maruko down with summersault sentons and hit a top rope splash to for the win (although Maruko clearly got a shoulder up before 3, which was hidden from ref’s view by Kurumi’s body).

Fine match, despite a couple missteps. I left this wanting to see more of Maya and Kurumi as a team.

 

 

4) ICE Cross Infinity Championship Match: Tsukasa Fujimoto (c) vs Uno Matsuya ****1/4

Tsukka was starting a fighting champion type angle, and this was her 2nd defense. Potentially a big opportunity to shine for the rookie Uno, who normally wouldn’t get a title match this soon into her career.

Uno quite fired up to start, to Tsukka’s amusement. Trade arm wringers and counters, then hammerlocks, then Tsukka moves to strikes to take over. Once she has the advantage, she keeps control for a while with a variety of holds. At one point she draws a chorus of boos for raking Uno’s shoulder with her fingernails. The rest of the Ice Ribbon roster is LOUD at ringside encouraging Uno, which gets the crowd involved too. Tsukka kicks at the ropes in irritation of the other wrestlers cheers for her opponent.

Tsukka gets more boos for something off camera (the shot was on Uno recovering in the corner) involving her and the ref. I was NOT expecting an almost heel Tsukka here, and the dynamic’s interesting. Now a choke in the corner, and the brilliance of the work done so far (and of Uno’s selling) materializes, as that spot is in every match I’ve seen in Ice Ribbon featuring a veteran against a rookie it’s generally treated as just part of the match, but here it gets more loud boos.

Uno tries to put on the brakes when whipped to the ropes, so Tsukka nonchalantly dropkicks her against the ropes instead of off the rebound. Uno tied up for the dropkick to the back, which gets 2. Uno counters a whip with a shoulder tackle off the rebound, then hits two more for 2. Uno tries a scoop slam but Tsukka sets herself to block then slams Uno instead for 2.

Tsukka locks in a crossface, which Uno eventually reverses into pin for 2 (the ref was a bit slow to notice it was a cover and start counting here). Tsukka kicks at Uno then hits the ropes, but Uno counters with a spear for 2 then applies a Boston Crab. Amusing bit follows as Tsukka motions for the crowd to cheer her efforts to get to the ropes and is met with silence. She then bangs the mat to start a clap and the crowd goes along with it, but chants for Uno. They’ve obviously done a superb job getting the audience into the story of the match.

Scoop slam for 2. Uno tries to pick Tsukka up over her shoulder but Tsukka fights it off and hits a dropkick in the corner, then the seated version. Scoop slam follows for 2, then Tsukka applies another crossface. Uno’s in for a long time and claws for the ropes, so Tsukka tries to convert into the stranglehold. In a great counter, Uno rolls over and over on the mat between Tsukka’s legs to prevent Tsukka from grabbing her, and as the champ frantically tries to figure out what to do Uno stops spinning and converts into a sunset flip for a close 2. Crowd’s going nuts. Fantastic sequence.

Tsukka kicks Uno and goes up for a missile dropkick, which is swatted away and Uno gets a schoolgirl rollup for 2. As Tsukka gets up after kicking out Uno gets another for another 2. A third for 2. A fourth for 2. A fifth for 2.999. Each was closer and closer to a finish, and the structure of this match is superb. Tsukka with a double chop to Uno’s back to stop her momentum.

Perhaps the most gentle snap mare I’ve ever seen sets up Uno seated on the mat for HARD kicks to the back. The rebound one to the chest gets 2. Tsukka signals for the end, but as she jumps to the top rope Uno’s already on her feet and intercepts. She tries to schoolgirl Tsukka from the top. Tsukka hangs on, so Uno supports herself sideways on the middle rope to put all her weight into it, eventually breaking Tsukka’s grip and completing the rollup off the turnbuckles for 2. But as Tsukka kicks out, Uno holds on and rolls her over again for another 2.999. Tsukka comes up with a great scared, “what on Earth is happening here” look on her face, and the crowd is SOLIDLY behind the underdog Uno’s effort.

Uno’s got Tsukka over her shoulder, and connects with the faceplant this time for 2. Uno hits the ropes, Tsukka on her back and pushes Uno back with her legs and spins around for her trademark rollup, but off the rebound Uno rolls forward onto Tsukka for a cover and another incredibly close 2. Uno whips Tsukka into the ropes and gets caught in a wheelbarrow rollup off Tsukka’s rebound. Instead of rolling through for the kick Tsukka cinches down for a tight cover using both her arms and legs to trap Uno’s legs over her shoulders … and gets the 3. Tsukka comes up looking extremely relieved, then cheerfully reclaims her belt.

 

This was a masterclass in storytelling. Tsukka, Uno, and the wrestlers outside did EVERYTHING they could to get the crowd behind the outmatched challenger. The dynamic of Tsukka working almost heel with literally the entire roster cheering against her was a refreshing way to add layers to what could have been a squash otherwise. Then the match structure of having a resilient Uno get closer and closer nearfalls as the match went on built wonderfully until the champ, who never should have been in any danger, felt vulnerable.

As I talked about in my spotlight on exceptional Joshi rookies, Uno has great natural ability to engage the crowd and was already showing flashes of that talent here, a mere couple of months and under 15 matches into her career. Most of her offense wasn’t anything more complicated than slams and rollups, and yet this was a fantastic match with a lot of drama. I’ve said many times I think Tsukka’s one of the best and most versatile wrestlers in the world, and performances like this only serve to strengthen that opinion.

 

Couldn’t understand much from the roundtable but Maruko was really emotionally choked up about something, and Risa and Kurumi had a bit of a face off.

 

Overall

I really enjoyed this DVD. Each show had about 40 minutes of wrestling, but as I often find myself saying about Ice Ribbon’s dojo shows the quality of action and pace are such that the shows never feel short. There was good variety with several visiting wrestlers on vol 40, the mix and match tag team encounters all had points of interest, and the four singles matches were a nicely diverse bunch and all varying levels of very good to excellent. Cap it all off with a sleeper hit of a title match and this disc is an easy recommendation.

Ice Ribbon Vol. 739 DVD Review

 

Vol 739: July 30, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan

This is a theme show produced by Tsukasa Fujimoto and Mochi Miyagi celebrating their birthdays, which ties into some of the stipulations of the various matches. Tsukka and Mochi introduce the show and chat a bit to open.

 

 

1) Team Tsukka (Uno Matsuya, Maika Ozaki, & Risa Sera) vs Team Mochi (Maruko Nagasaki & Kurumi Hiiragi) **1/2

The participants are wearing various gear of Tsukka and Mochi respectively. Uno’s in Tsukka’s white gear, Maika the red and blue, and Risa the gold. Maruko’s in Mochi’s purple and black outfit and Kurumi in her orange one.  Participants must use a move of the person they’re dressed as for a pin or submission attempt count.

This match was interestingly pretty much split into three major phases. Early on Maruko and Maika “struggled” with the concept and went for invalid covers to get the idea over. In the middle Maruko and Risa were more in tune with the match, trying to mimic moves of their respective inspirations, but with little effect. Towards the end Kurumi and Uno went all out and were successfully channelling their inspirations. Interspersed throughout were other pairings and spots playing up the cosplay, like Maruko doing Mochi’s signature taunts and (ridiculously) trying the stomach smother spot in the corner and Risa getting booed for doing her double knees to corner spot when it seemed she was setting up Tsukka’s dropkick spot.

Other highlights included Team Tsukka playing janken to determine which two of them would attack their tied up opponents in Tsukka’s dropkick to the back spot, Risa being “unable” to do the Venus Shoot and getting “stuck” on the top turnbuckle, Risa’s rather ridiculous “Tsukkadora” attempt, etc.

Kurumi makes a really good Mochi, and picked up the victory for her outnumbered team after a Styles Clash and frog splash on Uno. Fine, lighthearted opener. I’ve seen IR do this concept better, but this was still amusing.

 

 

2) Loser of the fall reveals their age: Miyako Matsumoto vs Tequila Saya vs Maya Yukihi ***

Safe money’s on the rookie falling victim to this stip, although Miyako’s always a target in triple threats. Speaking of Miyako being a target, they start off with an amusing sequence of the three trading forearms except Saya only hits Miyako and whenever Maya’s forearms Saya she clearly and purposefully pulls back and “strikes” with the impact of a feather. After a little of that they drop the pretense altogether and just attack Miyako as a team. Amusingly Miyako outsmarts them (?!) and uses them against each other, just to tire herself out doing a giant swing to Saya and collapse to mat and allow them to take back over.

Saya and Maya tie Miyako up in the ropes and give her 40 double chops on Miyako in ropes as ref stands to side (apparently also not a big fan of the Dancing Queen). The crowd seemed a little confused as they blew through the 30’s, perhaps expecting them to stop at someone’s age (which would come into play later).  With that Miyako collapses to floor and Maya and Saya legit attack each other for first time in match.

It continued back and forth in that vein, with Miyako occasionally interjecting to face the ire of both opponents and powdering back out. One great moment saw Miyako lay them out and go up for the Super Mama Mia, only for both of them to simply stand up and continue fighting amongst themselves with Miyako stranded on the top turnbuckle posing.

Eventually Miyako lands the Shining Wizard on Maya to take her out of the equation and gets the better of a rollup exchange with Saya with the Miyacoco Clutch … for the win! YAY!

Honestly this was better than I initially expected, with them making the most of the triple threat format for some really fun spots. The flow could have been a little better, but Saya showed good fire, Maya’s improved a lot and displayed sharp offense here with some nice double pins and holds on both opponents, and Miyako was classic Miyako, so this ended up quite entertaining.

 

Afterwards, as per losing the fall, Saya’s license is shown and she tearfully reveals she is 32 while Maya and Miyako mock her from the corners. Crowd was laughing and clapping, so whatever Saya was saying seemed to have the intended effect.

 

 

3) Hardcore Ribbon: Mochi vs GENTARO *

 

There’s a ladder already in one corner and a stack of chairs in the opposite to start, with the competitors in opposing open corners. Great visual.

They engage in the most hardcore of exchanges, the pose-off, to open. Gentaro eventually tires of it and knees Mochi in the back of the head, then goes right for a chair. That didn’t take long afterall. Mochi takes a boatload of chair shots for a long while, eventually throwing the ladder at Gentaro to take control. She wears her whip out on him on the outside and through the crowd, but he quickly regains control and it’s time for more chair shots. Mochi’s attacked and choked with a spike of some kind, takes over with whip again and then chokes him with a chair of her own. Earthquake splash with chair on the outside and she’s finally getting a bit of sustained offense.

Back in, Vader Splash on chair on Gentaro, but Mochi’s clutching her arm and Gentaro takes over again with the whip. And back to the chair. Actually two, and he hands one to Mochi and they duel. Odd choice. He eventually knocks hers away and hits her in the throat. More chair. Fisherman Buster. He lifts up the half dead Mochi and does another on the chair. One handed cocky cover, and Mochi kicks out at 2.

Gentaro sets up the ladder and goes up, and it’s so rickety Risa comes in to steady it from underneath. Mochi gets up and dumps it so Gentaro lands on the chair. Mochi collapses the ladder and rides it down onto him. Styles Clash teased, but Gentaro backdrops out of it. He gets the chair again but Mochi counters with a running splash that sends it back into his face. She piles chairs on him and climbs the ladder (with Risa and Maruko in to hold it), standing on the very top step and nearly hitting the ceiling. Leg drop onto chairs on Gentaro for 2 (although his shoulders were never actually down).

Styles Clash attempt reversed into a sharpshooter. Gentaro breaks inexplicably, gets a chair, and chokes her with it for the submission. And then the ref and several wrestlers had to pull him off her after the bell as he continued to choke her. Ugh.

Cut to an interview afterward with Gentaro lounging in a chair showing no effects while Mochi sells on the canvas. I didn’t understand what was said, but the audience was laughing and clapping at points. Handshake to end it and Gentaro carries Mochi to the back piggyback style. Given the post match this makes no sense to me (although again I acknowledge I’m obviously missing the context of their promo).

 

I can’t fault the effort, but this was pretty much everything I dislike about both hardcore wrestling and intergender matches (both of which can be incredible when done right). 80% of the match was a larger, stronger male wrestler attacking his female opponent with a weapon, with little in the way of transitions or a story. Again he’s so dismissive of her he hands her a weapon at one point, and still kicks her ass. I know the idea is “look how tough Mochi is for lasting this long before being beat,” but it wasn’t done well and that story alone wasn’t nearly enough for me here.

 

Risa (still dressed as Tsukka) and Miyako come in for a seated promo segment while the ring ropes are taken down around them for the main event. It’s fairly amusing to watch the two of them bicker/banter even without understanding what they’re saying.

 

 

Main Event) No rope match: Misaki Ohata & Kyuuri vs Tsukasa Fujimoto & Tsuksuhi ****1/4

The only no rope matches I’ve seen previously are hardcore grudge matches from Dragongate USA. This one seems to be set up in the spirit of competition, which makes it quite interesting. Three of my favorite wrestlers are involved with it (plus another extremely talented one) so my expectations are high. This match is what I got this DVD to see.

Misaki and Tsukushi start (with their partners crouched near the posts in opposite corners) with some mind games, then a few strikes. They jockey back and forth trying to whip each other towards the ropeless edges of the ring then transition into counter holds and come up with a stalemate. Nice, fast sequence to open.

Wholesale changes. Collar and elbow lockup, then Kyuuri and Tsukka take turns rolling out of arm wringers, then back to standing counter wrestling. Kyuuri whips Tsukka towards an edge and Tsukka stops just in time (making baseball’s “safe” sign as the audience chants the word with her). Now the reverse with Kyuuri being whipped to opposite side of ring and coming up just “safe” herself, and they go back to the counter wrestling and an eventual stalemate. Loving what they’re all doing here already.

Knucklelock tie up this time and they fight over a test of strength. Tsukka wins and forces Kyuuri into a bridge then tries to use her body weight to break it. Kyuuri shows great neck strength and maintains the bridge, so Tsukka gets off her and just kicks her instead. Figure 4 by Tsukka. Kyuuri rolls over immediately, Tsukka returns the favor, repeat for each and they’re right near the edge of the ring with the crowd ooh-ing in anticipation of them falling to the floor. Tsukka uses Kurumi (crouched outside as a second) to brace herself, and just before Kyuuri falls Misaki comes over to push her back towards the center (which also saves Tsukka, as their legs are still tangled). Nice tease.

Kyuuri applies a figure 4 this time and Tsukka immediately scoots backwards towards an edge trying to pull herself over to break in a nicely different counter from what they just did. Misaki stops her just shy though and applies a figure 4 style headscissors on Tsukka and leans over the edge herself, with Tsukka now being stretched between Misaki’s headscissors and Kyuuri’s figure 4. The ref counts and Kyuuri hilariously releases first, sending Tsukka and Misaki tumbling to the floor.

Tsukka’s dragged back “in” and Kyuuri tags Misaki. Hair toss into the corner and Misaki presses a seated Tsukka against the post. Looks really painful without the turnbuckles there, as Tsukka’s back is being pushed into the eyelets. Back to the center and Misaki slams Tsukka’s head into the mat as the crowd counts, slowing down with each slam until she stops around 20, acts tired, and calls for Kyuuri to bring her a drink of water. After receiving said drink, she continues reenergized and completes a full 33 head slams in honor of Tsukka’s 33rd birthday. Yes, that rest break in the middle was an (good natured) age joke.

Misaki tags out to recover from that exhausting experience, and Kyuuri puts Tsukka in a camel clutch to do funny / mocking poses (pinching Tsukka’s cheeks, pulling back on her nose, etc). They’re having a lot of fun at the birthday girl’s expense.

Tsukka fights off the fisherman buster, then in a great spot runs towards the edge and Tsukushi acts as proxy “ropes” (putting her hands out and pushing Tsukka back towards the center) to give Tsukka momentum to run back at Kyuuri and land a wheelbarrow rollup for 2. Tsukka finally tags out for a breather and Tsukushi comes in with a hard dropkick to Kyuuri, but Misaki comes running in to save her partner. Double team suplex attempt (mostly) converted by Tsukushi into a double neckbreaker, then she scoops slams each opponent in sequence. Misaki rolls out and we get a nice forearm exchange from the legal combatants.

Kyuuri ducks Tsukushi’s last forearm attempt, monkey flips her to the mat, and tries to convert into a cross armbreaker, but Tsukushi reverses into a surfboard. Kyuuri flips out of it and into a cover for 2, which Tsukushi bridges out of then runs for the “ropes.” She realizes just in time there’s no ropes to bounce off of and stops herself, but Kyuuri kicks her from behind and sends her off the edge anyway onto Kurumi (who needs to find a safer spot to crouch 😉 ).

A followup kick puts Tsukushi down on the floor and Kyuuri cartwheels over the edge into a doublestomp.  Nice. Back to the center of the ring Kyuuri gets a judo trip for 2 then tags out to Misaki. Misaki takes Tsukushi down with a dropkick, but as she tries to hit more to a seated Tsukushi the latter keeps rolling out of the way of 3 attempts so Misaki finally abandons that plan and grabs a facelock. Scoop slam attempt off the edge, but Tsukushi floats out to save herself and tries to dropkick Misaki off the edge. Ohata moves though and ties up Tsukushi as she lands in curb stomp position right on edge of ring. She completes the curb stomp and sends Tsukushi face first to the floor. That looked vicious.

Tsukushi stumbles back in and is seated against the ringpost. Misaki’s signals for the crossbody (?!) but Tsukushi moves and Misaki goes flying stomach first into the eyelets/post. Tsukka comes in for a double suplex, then puts her partner into Crossfire powerbomb position then flips Tsukushi up into essentially a spinebuster onto Misaki for 2. Tag to make Tsukka official and she kicks at Misaki’s back, then comes around for the chest kick. It’s ducked, but as Misaki comes back up Tsukushi catches her with the crossbody. Great use of having no ropes in the way of people going in and out there.

Tsukushi and Tsukka double whip Misaki towards corner. She stops herself but turns around into a Tsukushi dropkick that sends her back first into the eyelets. She drops down to her knees and it seems she’ll be double dropkicked against the post but she charges out and catches both with a crossbody instead. Tsukka ends up seated against the far ringpost and Misaki HITS THE CROSSBODY AGAINST THE POST. Ouch! Tsukka turns around to accusingly point at the eyelet as she sells to make sure everyone knows what just happened and appreciates the pain she’s in. Cover by Misaki gets 2.

Misaki whips Tsukka towards the edge and she jumps off it and SCALES THE PILLAR ON THE WALL to save herself. So. Awesome. At the top of the pillar is a fan, so Tsukka hangs out up there for a moment enjoying the breeze in her face. Once she comes down she soaks in a well deserved round of applause (including from her opponent), but then Misaki hits her with a kick to the gut and a stunner as she gets back in the ring.

Misaki then pulls Tsukka to another edge and grabs a waistlock, teasing a German to the floor. Tsukka appropriately sells like her life is in danger and counters with a wheelbarrow roll, which they keep reversing in turn until they almost go off the far edge, then they reverse direction and eventually roll  (sideways) off the original edge they were perched on. Fun sequence there that made the most of the unique match type, teased danger, and ended with something that paid off the sequence but was reasonably safe for the two of them.

They eventually get up and celebrate surviving with a cheer, then shake but Misaki kicks Tsukka and sends her towards the post. Then she dropkicks Tsukka and the latter’s head visibly bounces off the post. Misaki back on the apron, and dives off to the floor (presumably onto a laid out Tsukka, but it was on the far side of the ring from the camera so I didn’t see the landing). She drags Tsukka back in and tags Kyuuri.

Three slingblades in rapid succession get 2, and Kyuuri does her cool conversion where she uses Tsukka’s momentum from the kickout to lock in an arm bar. Tsukka tries to roll out but Kyuuri hangs on and reapplies it. Tsukka claws to the edge for a break.

Tsukka counters the Fisherman, but her enzugiri is ducked and Kyuuri rolls into armbreaker. Tsukka counters that into leglock, then floats into a headlock, which Kyuuri counters into a Rings of Saturn. Great counter wrestling from both. Tsukushi comes in to break the hold. Misaki chases her off and Kyuuri goes for arm trap submission on Tsukka but gets rolled up into position for the kick to the back. Kick to the chest followup gets 2.

Tsukka locks in the stranglehold but Misaki saves. Everyone in now fighting. Tsuksuhi goes up on Tsukka’s shoulders, STANDS, and hits a missile dropkick on Misaki (which was so cool I’ll forgive it taking so long Misaki had to stand there selling being out of it for a bit waiting for it).

Tsukushi tries to return the favor to her partner by bending over to make a platform for Tsukka to get on and attack Kyuuri from, but as soon as Tsukka puts weight on Tsukushi’s back the latter collapses face first and they both go down in a heap. Intentional or not that was amusing and fit in with the match nicely.

Kyuuri takes advantage with the rolling Fishermans on Tsukka as Misaki intercepts Tsukushi and gets 2. Armtrap submission tried again, but Tsukka counters again into a rollup for 2. Kyuuri ducks a Tsukka clothesline and Misaki nails Tsukka with the spinning double sledge. Kyuuri with a butterfly roll, then rolls back the other way for a pin attempt that gets another 2. Tsukushi saves Tsukka by dropkicking Kyuuri right out of the ring. Misaki dropkicks Tsukushi, then Tsukka dropkicks Misaki. Kyuuri climbs back in and Tsukka tries one on her, which Kyuuri swats away.  Kyuuri tries a rollup, which is reversed for 2, but Kyuuri reverses that for 2, but Tsukka reverses again for 2. Love those kind of sequences.

Tsukka hits a seated dropkick as Kyuuri starts to get up for 2, then calls for the end. She climbs the POST (with steadying help from Tsukushi) and hits a missile dropkick for 2 as Misaki saves. A double dropkick from Tsukka and Tsukushi takes Misaki out, and another on Kyuuri gets 2. Tsukka’s looking for the Infinity but Kyuuri fights it off, lands a judo trip, and goes for the arm trap for a third time. Tsukka escapes, slides under Kyuuri’s legs, and stands up. Uh-oh, not a good development for Kyuuri as Tsukka’s got her in electric chair position, and indeed there’s the Ocean Cyclone suplex for 3.

 

Talk about making the most of a stipulation. The psychology, teases, and drama were all excellent and I absolutely loved seeing these four work a technical, competition based match within such a unique format.

 

There’s a fairly extensive roundtable afterwards which ends with birthday cakes and a surprise appearance by Arisa, who comes in, hands her partner flowers without saying a word or breaking a smile, then turns around and marches back out.

 

Overall

So I really didn’t like the Hardcore Ribbon match, but the opener and the triple threat were decent, and the main excellent, so this show still gets an easy recommendation. The main in particular is a wonderful example of what can be done when approaching constraints as a chance to be creative.

Match Review: Jumonji Sisters vs Best Friends 12/27/15 (DVD)

I’ve finally gotten the DVD containing one of the very best matches I’ve ever seen live, and am excited to revisit it and do a review of here. The entire event (JWP Climax 12/27/15) was quite good, but I’d like to focus on just the tag title match for this entry (both as a spotlight and because I intend to due full play-by-play).

 

JWP Tag Title Match: Jumonji Sisters (c) (Dash Chisako and Sendai Sachiko) vs Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto and Arisa Nakajima) ****3/4

 

 

 

This was tied for my favorite match of the eighty-four I saw the first time I went to Japan, so as mentioned I’ve really been looking forward to rewatching it.

Handshakes all around. Arisa and Dash start. Knuckle-lock tie up, Dash kicks out of it and grabs a headlock which Arisa reverses into a waistlock, then a front facelock. Dash tries to twist out but Arisa keep hold of the arm and arm drags Dash down into a headlock on the mat, but the latter gets a headscissors. Arisa kips out and we have a stalemate. Smooth counter wrestling sequence from two pros and we’re off to a great start.

Collar and elbow this time, mutually broken after some jockeying, Dash emphatically swings at Arisa with a clothesline attempt which is ducked, and Tsukka comes in with a kick to Dash to give her team the advantage. I always find it interesting in Joshi tag matches that partners come in regularly for double teams unbothered by the ref but when actual tags happen people generally just switch and head right out to the apron. Almost the opposite of what’s expected over here.

Dash sent to the ropes and caught with a double dropkick, but she flips to counter the following double arm ringer and drags both opponents over, setting up stereo shotgun dropkicks as Sachiko comes in to help out.

Rapid fire offense from the champs on Arisa: Dash whips Arisa into the ropes and drops down, Sachiko kick off the rebound, Dash knee to the face, Sachiko faceplant, Dash basement dropkick. The Jumonis are so quick and fluid with this type of offense it’s an absolute joy to watch.

Dash nails on last kick to Arisa’s face before tagging out. Then Sachiko hits one and sends Arisa into the corner. As fast as Dash left the ring she’s back in for the double team, and is alley-ooped by Sachiko into a beautiful shotgun dropkick in the corner. Tsukka’s knocked off the apron by Dash as Sachiko hits a bridging suplex on Arisa for 2.

 

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An angry Tsukka comes in to kick away at Sachiko, but the latter ducks ducks a clothesline and Tsukka eats a Dash forearm and rolls right back out of the ring. Scoop slam on Arisa by Sachiko and Dash just stands on her for a bit. Awesome way for the confident champs to both taunt and damage the challenger at the same time.  Sachiko gets her own partner in suplex position and slams Dash down on Arisa facebuster style. Dash walks over Arisa again and then Sachiko hits a gorgeous summersault senton off the ropes for 2.

Sachiko up top with a shotgun missile dropkick for 2.  I didn’t remember Arisa taking this much of a beating so early on. Sachiko hits the ropes and Tsukka with a cheapshot kick to the back to give her partner a chance to nail a couple of kicks and tag out, which brings Tsukka in officially for the first time. She goes up to the top turnbuckle and hits her own missile dropkick, knocking Sachiko back into the far corner which allows Tsukka to follow up with her running seated dropkick. Tsukka looks for a suplex, but Dash is in to break it up and the Jumonji’s whip Tsukka into the ropes, but she catches them both with a dropkick on the rebound (nicely landing one foot on each opponent, even if the shot was glancing on Dash).

Trio of hard kicks to a seated Sachiko’s back by Tsukka, then she hits the ropes for one to the chest but Sachiko ducks and rolls her up for 2. Savate kick to Tsukka’s face then Sachiko hoists her up for a suplex, but Tsukka adjusts midair to escape, lands on her feet, returns Sachiko to a seated position with some kicks, then hits the ropes and nails the kick to the chest afterall for 2.

Tsukka back to the top, but Dash delays her from the apron and Sachiko uses the second rope for a sweet handstand headscissors to bring Tsukka back into the ring. Knucklelock Northern Lights suplex with a bridge gets 2.

Tag to Dash, who goes up and hits a missile dropkick sending Tsukka into the far corner. Sachiko whips Dash at Tsukka, but Tsukka ducks Dash’s clothesline, then ducks one by Sachiko, then turns and throws one at Sachiko (which is ducked), and ducks another by Dash. But she turns right into a double dropkick by the champs and is back in the corner. Sachiko goes outside and Dash rebounds off the far corner super quick to hit a shotgun dropkick on the seated Tsukka.  The counters and strikes are coming so fast it’s taking me a paragraph to describe ten seconds of action.

 

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Dash pulls Tsukka up and climbs to the second rope with Tsukka trapped between her and the corner and hits a rope assisted shotgun dropkick to Tsukka’s chest for 2. Back up for a double stomp but Tsukka rolls out of the way and Arisa attacks, but Dash ducks the clothesline attempt and sends Arisa crashing into Tsukka. Sachiko in and the champs each hit a running forearm on their double stacked opponents in the corner.

Arisa whipped to the far corner, but dumps a charging Sachiko to the apron as Tsukka kicks Dash to take over. Tsukka and Dash fight for a suplex as Arisa jumps down to the outside from the top rope, grabbing Sachiko in a DDT on the ring apron on the way down (ouch!!). Tsukka fights off the suplex, ducks a clothesline, hits the ropes, then hits her wheelbarrow rollup into a seated chest kick. Arisa comes in and they hit a double kick on Dash for 2. Arisa up top, now tagged in officially, and a connects with a missile shotgun dropkick.

 

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Dash fights off a waistlock with back elbows, but Arisa knees her into the corner in response to keep the challengers in full control. Whip to the far corner, charging knee strike, Dash drops to seated position and Arisa lays in more knee strikes, then breaks off to knock Sachiko down and Tsukka comes in for a running dropkick to the still seated Dash. Another running knee strike by Arisa follows, then she rolls Dash to the center of the ring and as the latter stands up Arisa and Tsukka go up in adjacent corners for a double missile dropkick. Gets 2.

Full nelson by Arisa (presumably for a dragon suplex). Dash powers out and eats a forearm for her trouble.  She throws a clothesline in response, but Arisa ducks and   finally nails a snap German and then holds on for two more. Dash tries to block the fourth so Arisa just headbutts her in the back of her head and hits a deadlift version with a bridge. Sachiko saves at 2. Arisa signals for the dragon to end it, but in a beautiful bit of teamwork Dash calls for her partner to superkick at her and ducks at the last second so Arisa eats the shot. Dash hits the ropes and lands a diamond cutter, Sachiko with a basement dropkick that sends Arisa into the ropes, Dash with one against the ropes, then drags Arisa out to the center for a 2 count. Again, all the rapid fire double teaming the champs do is just so smooth.

Dash kicks at the downed Arisa but the latter avoids it and gets up, then the two trade yakuza kicks to the face. Unreal. Arisa hits the ropes and runs into Dash basement dropkick to make her faceplant (the crowd felt that one), then another right to Arisa’s face as she tries to get up. Gets 2. Tag to Sachiko. She hits a shotgun dropkick followed by a backdrop suplex, then another of her swank summersault sentons for 2.

Dash in and whips Arisa into Sachiko (who’s seated on the turnbuckles in a corner). She catches Arisa with a boot, tornado DDT, Arisa rolls up after the hit towards the far corner and Dash is waiting with a missile dropkick, which knocks Arisa back into a Sachiko German with a bridge for 2. They knocked Arisa back and forth like a ping pong ball in that sequence, which was incredible.

 

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Dash up top with Sachiko preparing to climb the same corner for their sequential frogsplash finish, but Arisa gets the boots up as Dash comes down (man that looked brutal) and Tsukka attacks Sachiko to hang her up in the ropes. Arisa climbs and nails Sachiko with a double stomp to the midsection to bring her down hard. Arisa up again, and another double stomp to the prone Sachiko gets 2.  Arisa drags her out to the center of the ring. Sachiko tries to fight back but a hard forearm ends that and Arisa hits a release German suplex, then Tsukka joins in for another double kick for 2. Arisa up top again but Dash intercepts, goes all the way up with her and lands a diamond cutter off the top!

 

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Arisa’s in major trouble. As Sachiko hits a beautiful release German of her own, Dash is already in position in the corner and nails an immediate frog splash. Sachiko goes up for hers, also nails it, and Arisa looks dead. 1, 2, and at the very last second Tsukka DIVES from out of sight on the floor outside the ring through the ropes and gets by Dash to save the match. Phenomenal sequence from the champs (and Arisa), and flawless timing for maximum drama from Tsukka on the save.

 

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Sachiko looking for another German. Arisa claws at the ropes and reverses into a waistlock of her own when Sachiko pulls her away, but the champs counter again as this time Dash charges at her own partner and Sachiko ducks in the nick of time for Arisa to eat the kick to the face. The precision of all four competitors is unbelievable. Superkick from Sachiko to follow up but Arisa’s still standing. Sachiko hits the ropes … and runs right into a bridging Cutie Special for 2. Arisa with a series of knee strikes to the face to continue momentum as Tsukka and Dash tie each other up in the corner.

German attempt which Sachiko tries to roll forward to counter. Tsukka hits the sliding kick through Arisa legs to Sachiko’s face to seemingly set up the completion of the German (I so adore that spot), but as Arisa lifts Sachiko back up Dash comes out of nowhere to land a dropkick to Arisa’s back sending her forward and Sachiko rolls her up for 2.999. They were both struggling like mad during that cover and the audience erupted for the kickout as that was totally buyable as the finish.

Sachiko just waylays Arisa with a trio of superkicks to the face as the latter tries to stand, then follows with a German suplex with a bride for 2. Arisa’s suffering a lot at the hands of one of her own signature moves this match. Dash in and the champs go for an assisted Shiranui, but Tsukka dropkicks Sachiko as she tries to boost Dash and Arisa uses the opportunity to hit a release German on Dash that sends her rolling out of the ring. Tsukka with an enzugiri on Sachiko followed by a FLURRY of forearms by Arisa. Sachiko ducks the big one, but Arisa spins around and nails it anyway for a close 2.

Sachiko struggles to her feet and tries to create some distance between her and Arisa, but she stumbles towards the corner and Tsukka’s waiting to scramble up the ropes and hit the Venus Shoot, which knocks Sachiko back into a picture perfect bridging German by Arisa. 1, 2, 3 and new champs.

 

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Just a phenomenal match from start to finish by four masters of the craft. It kept going back and forth in glorious and captivating fashion. In addition to feeling incredibly lucky to have seen this live in general, it was privilege to see Sachiko wrestle before her retirement shortly after this match.

I wrote the following about it live, at I totally feel the same on the rewatch: “They threw everything they could at each other for fifteen action packed minutes, including a variety of innovative and impressive double teams. This was exactly the fantastically worked, logical, and wowing spectacle I wanted, ending in a huge title change to boot.”