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Gachi Boy,
Wrestling with a Memory
Gachi Boy, Wrestling With A Memory

It's the "Gachi Boy". Ryuta Sato fights and forgets in Gachi Boy, Wrestling with a Memory.

Japanese: ガチ☆ボーイ
Year: 2008  

Norihiro Koizumi


Seiji Nishida, Ryuta Hourai (original stageplay)


Ryuta Sato, Saeko, Osamu Mukai, Daisuke Fuyakawa, Daijiro Kawaoka, Ryo Segawa, Seiji Nishida, Ryu Nakaya, Takeshi Ogura, Maiko Kubo, Risa Naka, Shigeru Izumiya, Fujita “JR” Hayato

  The Skinny: A sports comedy with another incurable illness, director Norihiro Koizumi's follow-up to Midnight Sun is an entertaining crowd-pleaser, even if the melodrama gets to be a bit much.
Kevin Ma:
Japan has always excelled at commercial comedies in which underdogs achieve victory through hard work and lots of bonding. With unabashed sentimentality and a cynicism-free sincerity, some of these films have even surpassed their Hollywood counterparts in quality. While the obstacles stopping these underdogs tend to range from gender to a general lack of talent (think Swing Girls and Waterboys), Gachi Boy, Wrestling with a Memory finds a new obstacle from the Asian melodrama textbook that can't be overcome: not only does this underdog have to learn wrestling from scratch, but he also has to learn it without a short-term memory.

At first, Ryoichi (Ryuta Sato) seems like just another weirdo when he asks to join the unpopular university wrestling club. Initially skeptical, the club accepts him out of need for new members, though the current members all see that something is off about Ryota. He keeps calling the members by their stage names, and he seems to have an obsession with taking Polaroid pictures of every single moment he spends with the club. When Ryoichi's sister happens to see one of his public matches, she reveals the answer to his strange behavior: a bike accident years ago damaged Ryoichi's brain permanently, leaving him incapable of retaining any new memories once he falls asleep.

Director Norihiro Koizumi has experience with the dangerous mix of illness and personal hobbies; his previous film was Midnight Sun, where an aspiring musician suffers from an illness that prevents her from being exposed to the sun. This time around, Koizumi and writer/co-star Seiji Nishida don't simply use the illness as tearjerker material. Instead, they actually make Ryoichi's illness something that affects the plot at multiple points in the film (including a predictable twist in the third act that earned audible gasps from the Hong Kong Film Festival audience). Of course, they also get plenty of melodrama mileage out of the illness as well, using it as the cause for many of the film's bittersweet emotions. Sometimes the melodrama is done to excess (e.g., a scene where rain happens to start falling when a character cries), but it's also a necessary evil, as it lends the film its emotional footing apart from just its silly humor.

However, that humor happens to be the best part of Gachi Boy. While some of it comes from the obvious, such as the silly costumes and contrived storylines that drive the wrestling matches, the screenplay also derives its humor from its cast of interesting characters. This may be due to the film's roots as a stage play, which requires characterization in order to make its limited one-set premise work. However, the film does manage to expand on its stage roots, especially in their depiction of wrestling. Despite the filmmakers' poking fun at some of professional wrestling's more absurd conventions, they also show their respect for the sport by having the actors perform their own stunts during the wrestling scenes, providing the required visual spectacle of an underdog film. As a result, every drop and every blow, during the final match, looks realistically painful probably because they are painful.

Like most comedies, Gachi Boy also relies on the performances from its young cast, and they deliver plenty of energy and earn their laugh. Performing far above and beyond the rest of the cast is star Ryuta Sato as the memory-deficient Ryoichi. Defined by his illness and amateur enthusiasm, Ryoichi is not a very deeply written character, but Sato's vulnerable performance makes him a character worth cheering and crying for when the emotional second half rolls around. In fact, it's his charming naiveté and puppy-eye sincerity, not the wrestling, that are the most memorable aspects of the film.

The filmmakers ultimately know that Gachi Boy is just a story about amateur wrestling, with little at stake beyond achieving victory in a match. Instead of over-emphasizing victory, the filmmakers embrace the spirit of the sport, with just getting through a single match symbolically meaning so much more. While the film is no lesson in subtle storytelling, the blend of amusing physical comedy and touching melodrama makes it a crowd-pleasing sports film that entertains for its somewhat overlong 120-minute running time. Even though the film possesses an incurable illness and lots of crying, the filmmakers remember that their film also features people in egg costumes and leopard tight pants. Any film that can balance these things without seeming ridiculous should earn at least passing marks. Gachi Boy passes with flying colors. (Kevin Ma, reviewed at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, 2008)


DVD (Japan)
Region 2 NTSC
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Original Japanese Language track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Japanese subtitles
Various Extras


image courtesy of the Hong Kong International Film Festival Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen