Thursday, March 3, 2016

Takashita vs Umeda

Konosuke Takashita vs Kota Umeda, DDT DNA13 (Dramatic Dream Team) 1/8/2016

With quicksilver moves like the ones above, Japanese pro wrestling distinguishes itself in style from other nations' versions of the sport/spectacle. I'm not saying all wrestling in Japan is the same. I would argue the opposite, that there are probably more styles of wrestling in Japan than anywhere else. But there is a sensibility at work here that other cultures do not share: a preference for simplicity over complexity, a recognition of grace and delicacy even in the midst of brutality, and, of course, the whole yin-yang thing that Japanese culture appropriated from the Chinese.

The USA and other Western nations have strongly influenced Japan, especially for the past 70 years, yet the cultural appropriations show subtle differences in accomplishment that sustain the Japanese people's sense of ethnic integrity. For instance, Japan has claimed Christmas and rockabilly for its own for decades now, but even casual observation of the Japanese versions reveals significant differences in tone and interpretation. The same is true of puroresu, Japan's pro wrestling.

In general, Japanese fans value restraint and technical skill over big attitude and dramatic narrative. The coldness of the ring violence may shock and appall Western fans. Pain is a central feature of the aesthetic at work here: Japanese wrestlers will sell the pain of a blow to the knee through the next 30 minutes of the match. Japanese wrestling is an almost constant expression and solemnization of pain--and an exhibition of the many ways of causing pain.

Takashita and Umeda are at the forefront of the generation of wrestlers born in the last decade of the 20th century. They are strong, but not sculpted. Japanese bodybuilders do exist, but the crossover into pro wrestling is not as common in Japan as it is in the USA. Most Japanese wrestlers come to wrestling from other martial arts. Since its founding in 1997, Dramatic Dream Team has promoted a unique brand of pro wrestling combined with MMA. Matches are half "shoot" (authentic competition) and half "work" (theatrical performance), with moments of comic relief alternating with moments of no-punches-pulled brawling.

Watching this match from January, it's hard not to notice moves and situations common to WWE and ROH. American wrestling has cross-pollinated with Japanese wrestling for about fifty years. But again small details distinguish them in style. The camera and fans focus on particular moves, not so much on the play of emotions on the wrestlers' faces (unless, of course, the emotion is agony, in which case the camera is very interested). What Americans see as heel moves are non-judgmentally integrated into most wrestlers' playbooks, without affecting the wrestlers' popularity. The fans respond to well-executed moves, not so much to the wrestlers' personalities, ethics, or emotional outbursts.

In return, in the post-Attitude Era, it's possible to see more Japanese influence in the States, especially in newer promotions like Ring of Honor and Evolve. Certain Western wrestlers--Roderick Strong, AJ Styles, Zack Sabre Jr, and Ricochet--appear to be very strongly influenced by DDT and other Japanese promotions, some of them integrating that influence with the show-offy style of American wrestlers or the stoic, all-business style of the British and Europeans.

Thanks (again) to John for recommending this remarkable match.

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