Friday, July 1, 2011

What You’re Missing: Shiko Funjatta

A review of the live-action film シコふんじゃった! -or- Sumo Do, Sumo Don't.

The Japanese title sounds like "Shiko-fun-jatta"...which is a linguistic in-joke that someone thought was best approximated by the hideous English title "Sumo Do, Sumo Don't" translation. Yes it's kind of horrible, and no, you can't think of anything better. Seriously, what else can you call it. When you realize that a translator's job is to get a point across without necessarily literally translating every word verbatim one can only throw up your hands and take it as it is. Ok so now that that's out of the way, we can get down to business.

This award-winning comedy film from 1992, directed by Masayuki Suo (famous for his later work "Shall we Dance") features actor Masahiro Motoki, actress Misa Shimizu (also of Shall we Dance), and the gaijin Robert Hoffman, who almost never speaks any lines and has never been in anything else before or since as far as I can tell. It also prominently features Japanese actor and comedian Naoto Takenaka, who anime fans might recognize as the voice of Shiki from One-Piece, and from appearing in various advertisements that dot the subways and train stations of Japan.

He's on the left there.
Remember kids, the best financial advice always comes from Japanese comedians.

The film follows the story about a floundering college sumo team and student Shuhei Yamamoto (Motoki), forced into the position of joining the team or failing to graduate on time, missing out on the job that awaits him. The rest of the rag-tag Sumo team has more or less joined it of their own will, but they have also brought along their own baggage. Shuhei has never wrestled before, foriegn student George Smiley is consistently disqualified for refusing to properly wear his mawashi, and team captain Aoki Tomio (Takenaka) talks a big game, but due to nervousness he suffers from psychosomatic irritable bowel syndrome forcing him to forfeit every match he's in with a frantic dash for the toilet.

Needless to say, the film is full of lighthearted human drama and interactions reaching an emotional crescendo in the form of a sumo tournament. Love is found, personal daemons are conquered, and everyone grows better from the experience. I don't really want to give away what happens, but I can assure you that the Hollywood formula blandness where every loose end is tied up with as much audience focus group pleasing-points as possible, has not contaminated this very Japanese cinematic masterpiece.

If you have seen the film PingPong, you're in for a slightly similar ride, but Shiko Funjatta doesn't tell the story of a meteoric rise of someone in a world full of intense people being intense about a sport as does Ping Pong. It is actually a bit better at drawing in the audience, with the "fish out of water" quality of the main character jumping feet-first into the world of Sumo, creating an extra foothold that the audience can latch on to in order to get more involved in the world created here.

Finally, unlike the previous film we looked at (Happy Flight), this title is perfect for practicing those Japanese language skills and is a great study aid, since the dialogue is very similar to things that normal people say in every-day situations, where as Happy Flight has a bit more technical terminology particular to the world of aviation. If you are studying/learning Japanese, give this one a try without subtitles and see what happens.

Sumo Do Sumo Don't

The Japanese Region 2 NTSC DVD version does not have subtitles in any language other than Japanese but it's easy enough to follow, and again, the added Japanese subtitling makes this a great language study-aid. It's available at CD Japan for ...well about what Japanese usually DVDs cost. Book-Off might have it as well for quite a lot less.

DVD label Madman Entertainment released a Region 4 PAL DVD version (Australia) which is still available for sale online and does indeed have English subtitles.

Happy hunting.

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