Review: My Dad is a Heel Wrestler
by WH Park
On Friday, September 21 the movie “My Dad is a Heel Wrestler” starring Hiroshi Tanahashi opened in Japan.
Directed by Kyohei Fujimura in his first feature film, “My Dad is a Heel Wrestler” stars Tanahashi as Takashi Omura, Yoshino Kimura as Shiori Omura and Kokoro Terada as Shota Omura. It also features Ryusuke Taguchi, Kazuchika Okada, Togi Makabe and other members of the roster in small parts or cameos.
The opening scene is set during the Z1 Climax tournament and Omura is wrestling Satoshi Kojima in what I believe is the finals. Following the usual Tanahashi closing stretch of a match, Omura goes to the top to hit the High Fly Flow. He does so successfully but in the process hurts his knee as we fade to black. Worth noting is that Tanahashi in this scene is wearing black trunks and boots like a Young Lion and it looks good on him.
Cut ten years into the future and we see Shiori and Kota Omura getting ready to go an event at Shota’s elementary school but no Takashi. I’d say Shota is about 10 or 11 years old. The event sees all the kids talking about their fathers and what they do for a living, but Shota has no idea what his Dad’s job is. We see Takahashi rushing home in the rain to see that his family has already left for the school, so we cut between him changing into a suit and each kid giving their speech about their dad to Takashi helping an older woman get up some stairs. Of course, he misses the entire event.
Next scene is Shota and Takashi going to a public bath and Takashi practices a pose in the mirror for him. In the bath, Shota asks Takashi what his job is, which Takashi deftly avoids giving a straight answer on.
Not being satisfied with this situation, Shota hides in his father’s car as he drives to work and follows him to the entrance of some shady looking building. Shota runs into several New Japan wrestlers including Kitamura, Oka, Makabe, and Kawato. As he runs away from these rather intimidating looking men he runs out into the arena of what I assume is Differ Ariake as all the exteriors were shot there. Shota runs into one of his classmates (I forget her name) who loves watching wrestling with her father. It turns out that Shota has gotten free entrance to a Lions Pro Wrestling show (whose catchphrase is “KING OF BEASTS).
As Shota watches the show we see Lion Pro wrestlers such as Joel Hardy (Barreta), Sweet Gorilla Maruyama (Makabe) and of course Lion heavyweight champion Dragon George (Kazuchika Okada). All these names are tremendous.
In the main event, we see the dastardly Gokiburi (Cockroach) Mask and his partner Ginbae Mask (Taguchi). Gokiburi is the cinematic equivalent of Taichi except he is a much better wrestler. He cheats, uses outside interference and weapons. The crowd hates him including Shota’s classmate, who by the way he has a crush on. Shota is about to boo Gokiburi Mask when suddenly he does the POSE! The same one his father showed the day before! The evil masked wrestler that Shota’s future girlfriend hates is Takashi!!!
So, the rest of the movie is Shota dealing with this horrible knowledge with plot twists including his classmates thinking Dragon is his father and him needing to get an autograph for his crush. We also have a subplot of a reporter who loves wrestling (played by Riisa Naka) trying to write a story about wrestling for her publication and she ends up meeting Shota. Of course, the reporter is a huge fan of Gokiburi Mask but doesn’t know she’s talking to his son.
Takashi/Gokiburi’s story arc deals mainly with him coping with going from the main event star 10 years ago to becoming a villain that no one takes seriously because of the knee injury. We have scenes of him talking to his doctor who tells him he risks even greater injury if he ever does the High Fly Flow again. Him looking at his trophies from previous Z1 Climaxes as well as old Shu Pro magazines featuring stories on him including the one of him ending his career.
The other main subplot is Dragon George wanting to face Gokiburi Mask after Takashi revealed himself under the hood during a match. Think of the famous match where Mitsuharu Misawa took off his Tiger Mask gimmick in the middle of a match.
Shota deals with knowing his dad is a heel, some of his classmates bullying him because they think he’s a liar and so on.
I give this a thumbs up rating that I think most wrestling fans, especially New Japan ones, will really enjoy. It’s an interesting look at realistic aspects of wrestler’s lives without breaking kayfabe that much. If you’re expecting the Japanese version of Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler” you will be very disappointed. Tanahashi gives a good performance where he basically plays a very down to earth family man who loves being a pro wrestler. Taguchi gives a fun performance as Takashi’s partner and best friend as well. Lots of cameos from the New Japan roster for fans to spot.
The best performance though was from Kokoro Terada as young Shota. Just a likable child who conveys a lot of Shota’s feelings thru facial expressions, not unlike a pro wrestler.
Kyohei Fujimura does a nice job of driving the narrative forward with no lags in the story. Also, he shows some really nice direction with how he shoots the scenes between Takashi and Shota and Shiori.
An easy under two-hour movie to sit through and enjoy.
WH Park can be heard every month on POST PURORESU on POST Wrestling and can be followed @whpark9.