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July 06, 2009

The Sprit of Ed Wood Blogathon: The Calamari Wrestler

calamari wrestler 1.jpg

Ika Resuraa
Minoru Kawasaki - 2004
Pathfinder Home Entertainment Region 1 DVD

What I liked best about Ed Wood, Jr., or more precisely, Tim Burton's version of the oft maligned filmmaker, is his unwavering conviction in his talent. Similarly, many of the actors in Wood's film plunge ahead with dialogue and situations with a sense of seriousness befitting the cast of a Shakespearean tragedy. It doesn't matter that the interior of a rocket ship looks like it was filmed in someone's living room, or that the flying saucers look like suspended pie tins. Ed Wood's films are nothing if not entertaining in their ineptness and absurdity. Even if Wood was totally deluded about his abilities as a writer or director, it's the sincerity of Wood and his players that helps make his films continually watchable.

I had written about three Minoru Kawasaki films last November. Like Ed Wood, Jr., Kawasaki makes films with very limited budgets, with stories that defy conventional description. The very cheapness of his projects is never disguised. Unlike Wood, Kawasaki is a more technically able filmmaker, but the obvious financial restrictions he has to work with are part of a self aware aesthetic. Both Wood and Kawasaki exist as outsiders, working without the benefit of studio support. The main difference is that while one may laugh at Ed Wood, Jr., one laughs with Minoru Kawasaki.

calamari wrestler 2.jpg

The Calamari Wrestler is about a talking squid who seeks to become Japan's wrestling champion. He might also be the reincarnation of a deceased, highly revered wrestler. The squid costume looks marginally better than something found in a Roger Corman creature feature from the Fifties from the top, but no attempt has been made to hide that there is a boot wearing man underneath. Convinced that the squid is, in fact, the reincarnation of her late lover, a young woman, daughter of the wrestling commissioner, pursues the cephalopod. Interspecies love takes a back seat to sporting spectacles between men and invertebrates. Kawasaki's world is one that a more conventional thinking film viewer would pass on, but I find myself easily swept up by Kawasaki's childlike, rather than childish, universe of talking animals that coexist with humans.

One might argue that Kawasaki is as personal a filmmaker as Ed Wood. Both are writers and directors whose films reflect some of their personal obsessions. Kawasaki's films reflect a childhood growing up with parents who ran a seafood restaurant, as well as his love of wrestling, baseball, and Japanese genre films, especially Toho monster movies. It might also be said that a filmmaker, as well as an audience, with less imagination, would demand more realistic computer generated special effects, rather than watching a guy in a rubber suit. Kawasaki's films are about outsiders whose sense of integrity is challenged establishment characters with greater financial or political power. A Kawasaski hero is incapable of compromise or being untruthful. Even if some of the more distinctly Japanese aspects of Kawasaki's films are not fully understood by western viewers, one has to love a film where the most unlikely protagonists achieve victory in spite of overwhelming odds. Love wins out with marriage and parenthood in The Calamari Wrestler with an ending that could open the way for a sequel, perhaps titled The Squid and the Wail.

For more of "The Spirit of Ed Wood", visit Cinema Styles. Angora sweaters are optional.

calamari wrestler 3.jpg

Posted by peter at July 6, 2009 12:05 AM


Peter, thanks for a great entry. Does the wrestler bathe in a nice marinara sauce at night? With lemon?

The picture at the top looks like CGI so I was pleased to discover from your post that it's a costume. CGI just isn't the same as a costume when it comes low budget thrills.

And now we can all be left to wonder: If he had taken on Bela Lugosi in BRIDE OF THE MONSTER who would have won?

Posted by: Greg F at July 6, 2009 09:19 AM

Man, I've never heard of this before but it sounds amazing. Sounds like it would make for a good double feature with Aronofsky's *The Wrestler*, for a much more uplifting take on the genre. Heh.

Posted by: Ed Howard at July 6, 2009 09:28 AM

This is a very cleer entry in the blogathon, exploiting your own specialty with a film that certainly seems to be after Ed Wood's own heart. This reminds me a bit of the look of Big Man Japan, in which the hero finally ends up on a TV show where he has to wear a costume mimicking his former CGI-generated self. Great work.

Posted by: Marilyn at July 7, 2009 02:51 PM

Peter, this is going on my Netflix queue RIGHT NOW.

Posted by: Rick at July 8, 2009 09:39 PM

I'm glad to know you all enjoyed this post. I think what makes Kawasaki fun is that he doesn't attempt to disguise that he's working cheaply and makes it part of the fun. Certainly, it is more fun than The Wrestler and has a happier ending. Big Man Japan did play a midnight show here but I work weekends so I missed it, but I assume it will show up on DVD.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at July 12, 2009 11:12 PM