While our current Commander in Chief spent enough time in the wrestling ring over the years to earn a place of honor in the WWE Hall of Fame and wrestler Jesse “The Body” Ventura actually served as the governor of Minnesota from 1999 to 2003, when it comes to professional wrestlers with political aspirations, neither of them hold a candle to Japan’s totally badass The Great Sasuke (Masanori Murakawa).
One of the most famous masked wrestlers in Japan – and some would argue, the world – Sasuke didn’t just help popularize Mexican Lucha Libre-style masked wrestling in Japan in the 1990s but he also won election to the Iwate Prefectural Assembly in 2003 and wore his colorful wrestling mask during his entire term in office. In fact, to this day, Sasuke is rarely spotted in public (or private for that matter) without his mask. And if you think that a wild man like Sasuke sounds like the perfect subject for an award-winning indie documentary, entitled, appropriately enough, The Great Sasuke, you’d be right.
Unfortunately, despite some knockout scenes early on and Sasuke’s undeniable charisma both inside and outside of the ring, the resulting film lacks the gritty, behind-the-mask approach that a real-life story this compelling demands. And while it might be easy to lay the blame for the film’s failings at the feet of writer-director Mikiko Sasaki – who makes her feature documentary directorial debut with Sasuke – the real problem isn’t that Sasuke is a bad documentary, per se, but rather that it’s so strange and wonderfully compelling that you end up wanting so much more from it. And while that’s usually a good problem to have, in this case, less is definitely not more. In fact, a simple glance at the real-life Sasuke’s Wikipedia page offered up a far more detailed and well-rounded perspective on the aging wrestler-politician’s multi-faceted life than the film did.
That said, what Sasaki and company managed to capture on film in the year or so that they tailed Sasuke is feature documentary gold. Following Sasuke as he struggles to re-energize his flagging, once-glorious wrestling career on the eve of his 20th year in the sport by jumping back into the political arena with a run for office in Morioka City, Japan, the film features candid interviews with Sasuke’s fans, fellow wrestlers, and even his ever-patient wife and children, who seem to have grown a bit weary of their patriarch’s mask-wearing bravado over the years.
But what is probably most interesting about the film is how Sasuke’s blind, some would say foolhardy, ambition to succeed drives him ever onward in the face of often impossible odds. And though the cocky, defiant swagger that made Sasuke such a fan favorite over the years is also probably his worst trait as a husband, father, and even a politician, at the end of the day, you can’t help but root for this sad, self-obsessed outsider to have another moment in the limelight. And anyone who’s ever kicked against the pricks and haters to follow a dream will surely relate to Sasuke’s valiant struggle to reinvent himself at every turn, not just in the ring, but at the ballot box as well.
Since taking home the award for Best Editing, Documentary Feature at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival in 2016, The Great Sasuke has continued to screen at film festivals around the globe and is now playing exclusively on select Qatar Airways flights worldwide.