That Japanese college students donning wrestling masks and tights to try their hand at flamboyant professional style wrestling would prove entertaining came as no surprise. That it could be as touching, heartfelt and emotionally satisfying as it is in Gachi Boy - a very deserving winner of the Audience Award at the Udine Far East Film Festival 2008 – came as a shock of the highest order. Sure to be a huge crowd pleaser as it rolls out on the festival circuit Gachi Boy is a remarkably piece of work that fully exploits its sublimely ridiculous premise for comic effect while also finding a deeply human heart to the proceedings.
Igarashi seems to have it all. Sincere and enthusiastic he has built a name for himself on campus as something of a genius, passing the bar exam a full year before even completing his law degree. He therefore seems like an unlikely candidate to pursue a hobby as a masked, professional style wrestler but, sure enough, after a public exhibition from the down and out and really not very good school wrestling club Igarashi arrives at their door asking to join. But Igarashi also has a secret: a serious accident the year before has left him with permanent brain damage and he no longer has any sort of short term memory. He recalls everything from before the accident perfectly but can retain new memories for no longer than a day, when he sleeps all of the days events simply slip away and he must start over with the help of the detailed notes he takes constantly. In a strange way the accident is actually what has propelled him to start wrestling. He is simply going through the motions of his final year at school – his injury will prevent him from ever practicing law – after which he will have little choice but to help his father running the family owned public baths. And so, before his time at school is over, Igarashi wants nothing more than to follow a dream he has had since childhood: to become a masked wrestler even if he can’t remember doing it.
Yes, kids, this movie takes the central plot device from Memento and fuses it into a movie that is equal parts cult comedy, underdog sports movie, and power-of-the-human-spirit inspirational melodrama. It’s a bizarre fusion that, bluntly, should never ever have been able to work but my god does it, each part coming together in ways that surprise despite being familiar and the strengths of each disparate element building up the other parts while canceling out the typical weakness of each sub genre. Yes, the scenario is goofy as all hell – and riotously fun as a result – but the characters are played with such sincerity and charm that Gachi Boy earns every ounce of the emotional high it hits with its climactic wrestling bout.
There’s no real need to talk about plot with this film – it hits all the marks you expect any sports film to hit from start to finish – because the charm isn’t in the plot, it’s in the characters and the young actors who portray them and the equally young director – he’s only twenty six – who directs with a confidence well beyond his years. Gachi Boy will draw you in with the wrestling – as it should, the wrestling’s a blast – but it’ll leave you with characters you’ll want to stand and cheer for days after seeing it.