A Million Colorful Threads

Tenri Cultural Institute, in addition to its language school, concerts, and various other cultural events, hosts an art gallery that is always home to a variety of incredible exhibitions ranging from demonstrations of traditional Japanese techniques to innovative displays of multinational modern art. I’ve spotlighted several past showings, including the multinational Ink Imagists exhibition and Chika MacDonald’s Mugen exhibit.

Here I’ll be sharing thoughts on the currently showing “12 Years” exhibit.

 

IMG_7305

 

Nobuko Tsuruta has been doing SAORI, a Japanese art that embraces irregularities and uniqueness of freestyle hand weaving, for the exhibition’s titular “12 Years.” There’s wonderful variety showcased in her art. From stark, striking black and whites to gloriously colorful compositions in forms ranging from traditional tapestries and clothing to more inventive and abstract pieces using a wide array of fibers and other materials.

 

 

Beyond the surface intricacies and beauty, an underlying contemplative aspect to Nobuko’s textiles that adds emotional impact to her pieces. In her candid and genuine profile, she shares fascinating insight into weaving as meditation and accepting all aspects of herself, including “negative thoughts” and her “own vanity, ego, competitiveness and pessimism,” into the creative process and her art.

 

IMG_7311

 

The centerpiece of 12 Years is a breathtaking floor to ceiling tapestry entitled “Requiem.” It’s absolutely gorgeous, with shimmering gold interwoven with splashes of vibrant colors. There’s something powerful and evocative beneath the surface, and a placard nearby explains the deep meaning behind it.

 

 

Requiem was created while a fellow member of Tsuruta’s Saroi studio was hospitalized and subsequently passed away due to terminal cancer. It’s “intended to connect the Heaven and Earth, a bridge connecting the spirit of the people who died to we, the living.”

Nobuko’s dedicated Requiem to lost loved ones, including Tenri Gallery’s curator Kazuko Takizawa, who also passed from cancer a month ago. Kazuko’s love of art and infectious enthusiasm were apparent every time I saw her, and Requiem is a wonderful tribute to someone greatly missed.

 

 

IMG_7317

 

Rounding out the exhibit are striking photographs of people wearing Nobuko’s creations. They provide a nice compliment to the pieces on display, and the entire exhibition makes great use of the gallery space to really highlight and heighten the visual impact of Nobuko’s work.

 

 

12 Years runs until Wednesday, March 29, and is another excellent exhibit at Tenri well worth going to see in person.

 

 

Tokyo Joshi Pro 1/4/17 Live Thoughts

January 4, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

Last year’s Tokyo Joshi Pro show I attended was admittedly my least favorite of the trip, with mediocre wrestling, poor pacing, and the general feeling that I was not their target audience. There were bright points and most of the crowd adored it, but I felt with some tweaks the show could have been significantly better without losing any of the appeal to their dedicated fanbase.

So my expectations weren’t high for this, but I was interested to see if there had been any growth in the promotion / performers.

 

15800586_1497379016953955_5380958475818784234_o

 

The undercard featured a nice assortment of match styles, including Nodoka Oneesan (who debuted in last year’s opener) opening against her trainer Cherry, a 3-way between Rika Tatsumi, Hyper Misao, and Maho Kurone, and Ai Shimizu & Laura James vs Azusa Takigawa & Nonoko with special guest referee Joey Ryan.

The opener was decent and while still developing Nodoka was clearly more comfortable in the ring than last year. The three way had a overriding story of super-creepy Maho Kurone going after TJP’s resident ring announcer Minami Momochi (who was seconding Misao) and Misao or Rika running interference. Maho’s vampire/zombie character, complete with a severed limb she wears around her neck to the ring and gnaws on,  is a great addition to the idol heavy promotion to provide a different feel. All story over action here, but fine for what it was.

 

 

The tag match was all comedy, but it was good comedy. They found a story that fit Joey Ryan’s ridiculously over-the-top style, and having him as highly biased ref in favor of his wife’s team ended up quite amusing. The pairing of Azusa and Nonoko benefits both as they have good comedic chemistry. They played off each other well, with Azusa getting angry with Joey’s blatant favoritism while Nonoko instead chose to try to sway the King of Sleeze their way using flaunting her body.

The contrast of Joey and Laura’s overtly sexual interactions and the more reserved and demure relationship of Ai and her fiance was also fun. Everything was absurd but entertaining. This match was also the best Ai looked in the ring of the three times I saw her this trip.

 

 

A couple of matches in things paused for idol performances, with two different groups performing a couple of songs apiece. I actually liked isolating them instead of having the singing as part of certain wrestlers’ entrances like last year. It also allowed them to set up speakers/proper equipment in the ring for them (which is impractical when doing one song at a time throughout the show). I understand criticisms of this breaking the flow of the show, but I thought it was fine and fit well with TJP’s general theme/appeal.

 

15844100_1497378906953966_6653264672626458965_o

 

It also tied directly into a later match between two members of the respective groups as Reika Saiki faced Maki Itoh. I was familiar with Reika via social media but never saw her wrestle before. She’s got an incredible physique and uses the power to great effect in the ring, looking quite impressive in her victory over Itoh. It was kept pretty basic (understandable given both wrestlers debuted in 2016), but they put on quite a clean, solid match considering their experience level.

In a rematch of sorts of one of last year’s highlights, Candice LeRae faced Yuka Sakazaki’s “masked twin sister” Mil Clown. I absolutely LOVE the crazy clown gimmick. The mannerisms, moves, etc. were all pitch perfect. Another strong showing between the two, and a touch better than last year’s I think.  Mil gets a victory to avenge “her sister’s” loss last year.

 

15896287_1497381586953698_2144358407205852848_o

 

Saki Akai is clearly TJP’s star, and received the biggest reactions of the night by far. She was in full dominant heel mode, but still heartily cheered regardless as she faced Miyu Yamashita in the semi-main. Saki’s personal maid / manager / henchman played to the crowd a little too much when interfering, but Miyu did a decent job of trying to rally the fans behind her despite it being an uphill battle.

 

15800820_1497381383620385_6979888556087734970_o

 

I still kind of feel like Miyu’s capable of a bit more than I’ve seen from her, but she was good here regardless. Akai played the arrogant heel to the end, including mockingly offering a handshake after defeating Miyu only to pull it back and continue the abuse. I like the total commitment to the character she showed and that she didn’t let the cheers tempt her to play hero to the audience.

 

15844839_1497378980287292_7378699106388330443_o

 

The main event was quite an interesting matchup. Reigning and defending Tokyo Princess of Princess Champion Yu made her wrestling debut in the opener of last year’s show. In contrast, her opponent Shoko Nakajima wrestled in last year’s main event in the finals of the tournament to crown the first champion, coming up short against Miyu Yamashita.

 

15844541_1497379960287194_8807165514036852236_o

 

This started slow, but once they built momentum it turned into a nice example of a grapple heavy and judo influenced style I unfortunately didn’t really see otherwise this trip.

Shoko’s parallel challenge to last year added a bit of depth, and Yu looked natural as champion despite her short amount of experience. It ran a bit long and Shoko was clearly carrying things at times, but overall this had a strong story and good action and was a fitting main event.

 

15875583_1497379660287224_8269656320384847773_o

 

After Yu’s successful defense, Reika comes up to apparently stake her claim as the next challenger. Good choice I think. It’ll be interesting to see if the two relative rookies can elevate each others’ performances in a main event slot.

 

15896240_1497381973620326_4615199179987982832_o

 

I was pleasantly surprised to discover most of the issues I had last year had been addressed. While a lot of the action was still basic, significantly higher average in ring performances in terms of execution and a better array of stories and characters made this a vastly better show while keeping all of the elements that appeal to their core fanbase. The effort was strong up and down the card, paired competitors extremely well, and perhaps most importantly the pacing was much improved, with nothing really overstaying its welcome.

This is a very different product than the other promotions I watch, but it’s growing into its niche and I found this show quite enjoyable. Looking forward to seeing if they’ll continue in this vein going forward.

Wave 12/29/16 Live Thoughts

December 29, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan

My only Wave show this trip was thankfully their big one: Thanksgiving Wave 2016. It felt a little more serious overall than the Wave show I saw last year, although there were still comedic antics in the undercard.

 

wave122917

 

Note: My camera broke the night before and I hadn’t replaced it yet, so I unfortunately don’t have any action photos for this show.

 

1) Moeka Haruhi & Hiroe Nagahama vs Yako Fujigasaki & Yuki Miyazaki

I honestly don’t have much to say about this one. Solid but unspectacular, with nothing that particularly jumps out in my memory either in negative terms (botches, etc) or in exceptional ones (a standout performance or compelling hook). Serviceable opener.

2) Ai Shimizu vs Fairy Nipponbashi

Things opened with an amusing idol worship angle, as Fairy was starstruck with Ai and once she had greeted the voice actress she left the ring satisfied and headed towards the back. Ai, wanting her match, talked to the ref and whatever was then conveyed to Fairy (and the crowd) convinced Fairy to come back and start the contest.

I wasn’t familiar with Ai, who won Ice Ribbon’s Triangle Championship since my last trip and would be defending it at Ribbonmania a couple days after this show, so was very curious for my initial look at her. To be honest as far as first impressions go this wasn’t the best. Most of her offense revolved around her strikes, which looked extremely weak and unconvincing.  Her offense looked a lot better in the subsequent matches I saw featuring her on other shows though. She also does a fantastic rope walk spot (in the style of the Undertaker) halfway around the ring that’s a striking signature.

Fairy’s end of the match was all comedy, from “magic” hip tosses to use of a lightsaber. Nothing offensive, nothing I personally found that entertaining. Meh match for me overall, but was kept mercifully short.

 

img_5535

 

3) Elimination Match: Yumi Ohka, Mika Iida, & Hikaru Shida vs Kaho Kobayashi, Rina Yamashita, & Natsu Sumire vs ASUKA, Kaori Yoneyama, & Sawako Shimono

All three trios were nice, complimentary combinations. I was especially glad to have an opportunity to see more of Iida, and she was impressive here. She was also paired with two wrestlers I’m quite familiar with and like a great deal, so I was behind her trio despite them being the defacto heels here. I was surprised then they were the first eliminated, although it made sense given where the match was going.

I saw Kaho & Rina tag last year, so this was nice extension of that. They work well as a unit. Great back and forth interaction between teams both in the first segment and after Ohka, Iida & Shida were eliminated.

 

img_5537

 

After getting the  team’s victory Rina appeared to move on to other issues and challenged her teammate, effective immediately.

 

4) Kaho Kobayashi vs Rina Yamashita  

This was as good as it could be for being so quick (literally a couple of minutes). Kaho fought valiantly but Rina put her away in pretty short order. These two could tear the house down in a “real” match.

Kaho’s other teammate wasn’t to be left out, and challenged the exhausted youngster to yet other match.

 

5) Kaho Kobayashi vs Natsu Sumire

A touch longer than the last, and Kaho pulled out the victory here to the crowd’s delight.

There was a longish segment afterwards with Gami coming in and presenting something to Kaho, which I later got clarification was due to Kaho going on a tour wrestling in Mexico. Should be a great experience for her.

 

6) Ayako Hamada & Gran Hamada vs Kyoko Kimura & Hana Kimura

The generational angle here was of course immediately obvious despite not being privy to the buildup. Beyond the parent / child teams facing off, the dynamic of one “child” member (Ayako) being of similar age to the opposite “parent” (Kyoko) and the resulting age range of participant going from 19 to 66 and experience range from 9 months to just under 45 years made this a unique spectacle.

Everything was all about the intrigue and the people involved much more than the actual action. A suitable and notable occurrence that was a privilege to be at no doubt and I certainly understand the limitations on Gran Hamada at 66 and appreciate him still performing for us, but I found they didn’t quite create the drama needed to overcome the slow pace of the match, possibly due to going a bit too long.

 

7) Misaki Ohata 10th Anniversary Match: Misaki Ohata & Mayumi Ozaki  vs Hiroyo Matsumoto & DASH Chisako

As no Sendai Girls shows fit my trip, it was a real treat to see Dash chosen to be a part of this match (which I was already excited for as Misaki’s a favorite of mine) and thus give me one opportunity to see her wrestle. This was a fitting and fun “tribute” match.  All four wrestlers were clearly enjoying themselves, particularly Misaki having an absolute blast playing heel alongside Ozaki.

 

Main Event) Regina Di Wave Title Match: Yuu Yamagata (c) vs Ryo Mizunami 

I’ve seen Mizunami a fair bit both as part of Avid Rival (her team with Misaki Ohata that held both the Wave and Ice Ribbon tag team championships at the time of this show) and her trips to the Shimmer promotion in the US. She’s a powerhouse with great charisma in the way she performs and carries herself in general. They built to the right outcome here, with Mizunami toppling Yamagata to claim Wave’s top prize.

The match itself was decent and allowed Mizunami to properly shine at points, but I find Yamagata’s ring style slow and not compelling when she’s on offense. So her playing dominant champion in contrast to Mizunami’s perseverance wasn’t a story that played to her strengths and I felt it could have been better given the talent levels involved.

 

To close the show Ohata was announced as the winner of Wave’s annual “Zan-1” tournament / belt and became the #1 contender to her own tag title partner’s just won Regina Di Wave singles championship.

 

img_5534

Fun photo op with me wearing a Misaki t-shirt and Misaki wearing her newly won Zan-1 title belt.

 

As with last year, a lot of the appeal of this show was seeing numerous wrestlers I didn’t get to see elsewhere. The quality was up and down, but there was a point to everything and the angles were interesting even when not executed perfectly.  I also particularly enjoyed the trios tag and subsequent angle with Kaho, Misaki’s match, and getting to see the well deserving Mizunami crowned champion.

Farewell Kellie: A fan’s personal look back on a(nother) great career

I’ve been anticipating writing this since the Shimmer 90 tapings last November. After losing the Shimmer title she had just won the previous day back to Mercedes Martinez, Kellie Skater gave a thankful and heartfelt speech that felt very much like “goodbye.” However nothing was announced or concrete until yesterday (2/23/17), when Kellie gave a “thank you / goodbye” speech at a Stardom event at Korkuen Hall confirming that she was retired from professional wrestling.

img_4097

As an avid fan of the Shimmer promotion throughout its history, I’ve had the privilege of watching Kellie grow and transform during her career. She had been wrestling a little over two years when she made her Shimmer debut on May 2nd 2009 during the Volume 24 tapings, and would wrestle in 66 matches over the course of six and a half years. With her announcement at Stardom, it’s official that her last match was against Mercedes Martinez at Shimmer 90.

Kellie entered Shimmer as a comedic heel whose bark was bigger than her bite. Her charisma really made the gimmick work, and as she cheated and stole her way to victories over light competition fans got majorly invested in see the brash loudmouth get her comeuppance. They went crazy on the occasions more formidable opponents got their hands on Kellie and made her pay for her arrogance. Unsuccessful outings against Cheerleader Melissa (hearing the crowd collectively gasp as Skater dared grab Melissa’s pom-poms and mock her deadly opponent was fantastic) and Amazing Kong spring immediately to mind.

Yet the very next show the “Rate Tank” would be back out bragging as usual about being “indestructible.”  It had just the right amount of delusional overconfidence, and made for an entertaining story. Add it her and Shimmer’s announcers playing up her “suspect” protein shake (“ROO ROIDS!”) that she would partake in during matches and ridiculous boasting and Kellie an annoyance that just wouldn’t go away in the very best sense possible.

But beneath it all, Kellie had excellent technical skills anchoring her matches, and that were always improving. On the back of a long string of strong outings, particularly against visiting Joshi talents, Skater was slowly but surely winning the crowd over despite (or perhaps partially because of) her antics. On Shimmer Volume 50 Kellie would gain her first major victory in the promotion by defeating Yumi Ohka, signaling her moving up the card and transitioning into a viable threat. Watching the transformation as Kellie continued to develop and grow as a performer was a treat.

However her singles ascension would be delayed a little as two shows later she would team with Tomoka Nakagawa for the first time, forming arguably the best team in Shimmer history, 3G (the Global Green Gangsters).

IMG_2189_trim

3G t-shirt by ShuperCousin Designs singed by Kellie and Tomoka.

The dynamic of reformed heel and crowd darling Skater trying to reign in the underhanded instincts of not-quite-former-yet heel Nakagawa was fantastic, and 3G were instant fan favorites and title contenders.

Their feud with then reigning Shimmer Tag Title Champions Nicole Matthews & Portia Perez (the Canadian Ninjas) spanned several volumes and culminated in a wild no-DQ, no-countout, no-time limit contest in which Skater and Nakagawa finally overcame the nefarious Ninjas to claim their spot atop Shimmer’s tag team division.

They’d keep ahold of that perch for two years making 13 successful title defenses in a reign that spanned 16 volumes. They didn’t relinquish the titles until Tomoka retired in April of 2015, when during her final weekend they lost the championships to the Kimber Bombs (Kimber Lee & Cherry Bomb). Their issues with the Ninjas would continue on and off during that time, including involvement in involvement in a great no-DQ, no-countout war that spilled through the crowd and all over the venue  alongside Madison Eagles & Jessica Havok against the Canadian Ninjas and the Kimber Bombs, as well as Tomoka choosing one last 3G vs Ninjas encounter for her final match.

Skater and Nakagawa had incredible chemistry as a team and produced several of the best tag team matches Shimmer’s ever had. Kellie’s style fit perfectly with that of Shimmer’s visiting Joshi in general, and my favorite matches of hers (which are also two of my favorite Shimmer matches of all time) were multi-woman tags involving numerous Joshi talent.

IMG_1175

On Volume 67 3G teamed with Mia Yim to face Tsukasa Fujimoto, Akino, and Kaori Yoneyama in an incredible contest that simply has to be seen. In the main event of  Volume 74, in Tomoka’s penultimate match, Kellie joined her alongside Misaki Ohata & Hiroyo Matsumoto to face legends Aja Kong, Dynamite Kansai, Kyoko Kimura, & Mayumi Ozaki in a dream match beyond anything I ever thought I’d see in Shimmer. I was lucky enough to attend both of these events / matches live and they represent everything I love about pro wrestling. Admitted in both there was a lot more going on than just Kellie’s involvement, but she shone just as bright as anyone else and played a major part in these amazing moments.

With her partner retired, Kellie focused on reestablishing the upward trajectory of her singles career, and got several huge wins over stars such as Sonoko Kato, Courtney Rush, Ryo Mizunami and others leading to a shot at Madison Eagles for the Shimmer title on Volume 84. A countout victory seemed to set up a rematch, but instead Kellie would be attacked before the match and Madison’s resulting open challenge saw Mercedes Martinez making a surprise return to Shimmer to take the title with help of her new proteges Nicole Savoy and Shayna Baszler.

IMG_1107

This all set up for what seemed like it could be a long feud between Kellie and the newly dubbed Trifecta. In the main event of the first show of the next set of tapings Kellie pinned Mercedes in a tag match, and was granted a title match on Volume 87. It seemed the epitome of foregone conclusions, with Mercedes getting an establishing win over a top contender to set up a quest for Kellie to finally get the elusive Shimmer championship she seemed destined for. Turns out she was destined sooner than I thought, and she won the title from Mercedes to the crowds shock and delight. As I’ve referred to Kellie’d grown into one of the (in not THE) most beloved wrestlers in Shimmer and the audience roared in support of the new champion.

Kellie would defend the belt in solid matches against Vanessa Kraven and Cat Power, then to end the weekend Mercedes received a rematch. Warning bells about a possible 3S style reign started going off, and sure enough at the end of a hard hitting match where Trifecta put on a master class in heel tactics Mercedes regained the belt to a chorus of boos. Kellie then cut the promo I talked about at the beginning, which gave no details but felt like “goodbye” and left me wondering if her weekend long reign was to make sure she received her well deserved time with the title in case that was her last appearance in Shimmer. And we now know it was.

IMG_5478

Like with Tomoka, the vast majority of my experience with Kellie’s work is via Shimmer, but I did see her wrestle on Shine ippv’s and was lucky enough to see her live at Stardom. She was clearly respected wherever she went and always gave 110%.

img_0760

Thanks to Kellie for a career’s worth of incredible devotion to her craft and everything she put into entertaining us. It’s greatly appreciated and you’ll be dearly missed. Best of luck in whatever the future holds.

Ice Ribbon 12/31/16 (RibbonMania) Live Thoughts

December 31, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan

The buzz for this year’s RibbonMania was firmly centered on the final rounds of the tournament to crown a new Ice Cross Infinity Champion after the title was held up due to a time limit draw during Tsukasa Fujimoto’s defense against Tsukushi in November.

The development was interesting, as Tsukka had successfully defended the championship against a majority of the roster and seemed on pace to be challenging her own previous record for most defenses during a reign right around the time she’d be facing the woman she defeated to win the title. Instead, a few matches short of that the title was held up and a tournament to crown a new champion begun.

 

img_5763

 

There were no surprises in the early rounds, so coming into Ribbonmania the remaining competitors were the vacated champ (Tsukka), the opponent that forced the vacating of the title (Tsukushi), the prior champion Tsukka had won the belt from (Risa Sera), and the wrestler who ended Tsukka’s prior reign (Kurumi).

 

1) Ice Cross Infinity Championship Tournament Semi-Finals: Risa Sera vs Kurumi Hiiragi 

 

The vacating of the title instead of continuing on course for Tsukka attempting to break her own record seemed to open significant potential for some sort of shake up. Kurumi in particular looked like a monster in the last dojo show before this event.

Which made it even more surprising that she never felt like threat to Risa here. This was a good match, but didn’t have the urgent edge it needed. Risa felt in control during throughout, when her surviving a dominant Kurumi would have been a much more suitable, better story.

In a nice touch Risa remained at announce table to watch the match unfold and see who her opponent would be in the main event.

 

2) Ice Cross Infinity Championship Tournament Semi-Finals: Tsukasa Fujimoto vs Tsukushi

Coming into Ribbonmania I found the semi-final matches being determined by random draw to be quite telling. I was certain it meant we’d get this match in the semis, and that it’s winner would fail to win the title in the finals. Otherwise the brackets should have been set up for a possible rematch of the bout that vacated the title to happen in the finals.

 

This was the spirited contest expected from these two, who know each other extremely well and have styles that mesh nicely. Tsukka winning with the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex, a move inherited from the mentor of both competing wrestlers, seemed rather definitive. Unfortunate, as Tsukka solidly winning here begs the questions of why Tsukushi was the one to force the vacating of the belt in the first place.

Also, Tsukka’s victory unfortunately killed any remaining drama in the tournament. Risa vs Tsukka is the match that definitely should have headlined had the title never been held up, but as a payoff for a tournament that seemed to promised at least some unpredictability it was by far the least interesting way for things to turn out. The result of the main event instantly became a forgone conclusion, and I could feel a lot the energy go out of the crowd. The post match staredown between Risa and Tsukka got minimal reaction.

 

3) 7-way: Hiroe Nagahama vs Kyuuri vs Maika Ozaki vs Mio Momono vs 235 vs Tequila Saya vs Uno Matsuya  

This was originally scheduled to be a six-woman tag match, but shortly before the event Mio Momono was added to the match and it became a 7-way contest where eliminations could happen by pin, submission, or being thrown over the top rope to the floor. I’d been at Mio’s pro wrestling debut in NYC as well as seeing her in a fantastic opening contest at Marvelous’ Christmas Eve show, so was quite excited for her Ice Ribbon debut.

 

img_5679

 

It was an extremely fortuitous change, as they really made the most of the format and this was much more interesting than IR’s traditional random 6-man would have been. EVERYONE got a chance to shine at various points, including Ozaki showing off her strength with a double torture rack, innovative multi-person moves and pin attempts, and an incredible sequence where Uno was thrown to the apron and went crazy trying to stay in the match running halfway around the ring on the apron while everyone inside tried to knock her off. The effort from all seven wrestlers was phenomenal, and they really got the crowd fired up for several sequences.

 

 

Excellent match overall, and one of my favorites of my trip. In the end Saya got to look strong somewhat surprisingly hanging in until the final two competitors, but the expected (and rightful) wrestler won when Kyuuri pinned her with the Fisherman suplex. Great showings for all involved. Really hope to see Mio continue to wrestle in IR.

 

4) Triangle Ribbon Title: Ai Shimizu (c) vs Maruko Nagasaki vs Manami Toyota

This was a straight up slaughter, which made sense but also meant not much interesting was going on, particularly when the champion was one of the people being dominated. Adding to the awkwardness was an uncharacteristically botched move off the ropes from Toyota early on, but she acknowledged it and played it off to keep the match moving as smoothly as she could.

 

img_5711

 

Both defending champion Ai and challenger Maruko were just outmatched by Toyota, who powered through everything either tried on her and simultaneously pinned them both with a moonsault to win the Triangle title. Very short and effective for what it was, but Maruko in particular could have been made a star here by hanging in better against the legend.

 

 

It’ll be interesting to see what’s done with Toyota as champion. The very nature of the title means she’ll likely eventually lose the championship without being pinned for it, so the value to the roster of her reign will be in how her challengers in the meantime look in defeat.

 

5) Miyako & Jun Kasai vs Tank Nagai & Kengo Mashimo (w/ Mio Shirai)

Like last year, Miyako’s Ribbonmania match was a mixed tag affair. The action was quite strong until end, with Miyako being (perhaps unwisely) fearless in the face of her larger, male opponents. They brawled into the crowd early, then returned to the ring to trade some pretty high impact slams and strikes for a bit.

 

 

Unfortunately things veered into uncomfortable territory for the finish, with Miyako taking Mio Shirai hostage with a pair of scissors held to Mio’s throat. Ugh ugh ugh. It of course eventually backfired, Mio got free, and Miyako was chokeslammed to give her opponents the victory.

REALLY not a fan of realistic weapons being used (particularly with blurred levels of humor), even with Miyako’s usual ineffectiveness in using them.  Would much prefer Miyako stick to her comical weapons (beachballs, etc) instead of exaggerated ones (knife-like objects, guns, etc). Match was good until then though.

 

6) Maya Yukihi Trial Series Match 7 of 7: Maya Yukihi vs Nanae Takahashi  

Throughout 2016 Maya underwent a “trial series” of matches against high profile opponents. She’d previously faced Manami Toyota, Mayumi Ozaki, Dynamite Kansai, Kyoko Kimura, Hiroyo Matsumoto, and Risa (her regular tag partner and only victory of the series), leading to this final match against SEAdLINNNG’s Nanae Takahashi.

This was exactly what I expected: an ok match with Nanae dominating. Maya was never portrayed as having any real chance of pulling off the upset.

 

7) International Ribbon Tag Title Match: Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami) (c) vs The Lovely Butchers (Hamuko Hoshi & Mochi Miyagi)

I was a bit trepidatious headed into this match, as I generally don’t care for the Butchers’ gimmick, and signs seemed to be pointing towards them dethroning my current favorite tag team for IR’s tag team titles. Mizunami won Wave’s (her home promotion) singles title the night before, and Misaki was declared her #1 contender. Between the roll the Butchers had been on and the new status quo in Wave, it would have made sense for AR to begin dropping their tag titles here.

 

 

But I find Hamuko and Mochi vastly more entertaining when they get serious, which they did here to great benefit. They went toe-to-toe with Misaki and Ryo, leading to an excellent match.

A particular highlight was an intense lariat exchange between Hoshi and Mizunami, who both throw them with incredible force.

 

 

In a pleasant surprise for me, Avid Rival persevered and retained their International Ribbon titles when Misaki hit her beautiful Sky Blue Suplex (bridging half wrist clutcth tiger suplex) on Mochi. Kudos to all four here.

 

Main Event) Ice Cross Infinity Title Tournament Finals: Tsukasa Fujimoto vs Risa Sera

So as a result of winning the semi-finals earlier in the evening, Tsukka and Risa faced off here for IR’s top title.

 

 

Technically speaking, I thought this was a great match. The atmosphere and lack of crowd heat really hurt it though, as I thought it was pretty much the epitome of the “wrong match for the wrong crowd.” More specifically, it was the wrong match for the story they chose to tell.

It was instead exactly the match they should have had under the original trajectory of Tsukka’s title reign. This match would have been PERFECT as the end of Tsukka plowing through everyone else on a quest to best her own defense record just to run into a determined Risa dead set on proving she could reclaim her title from the woman who dethroned her.

 

img_5839

 

However without Tsukka’s streak still in tact to add drama and uncertainty not one person in arena bought a Tsukka win here. Now predictability can actually be an advantage when done well, as I praised Ice Ribbon for regarding their New Year’s Eve show.

But here the tournament was sold on the possibility of the unexpected, which made a back and forth contest between determined rivals the wrong framework for the finals. Both competitors should have been conveying desperation here (or better yet someone else should have advanced to face Risa, or the whole tourney been skipped).

 

img_5872

 

Risa’s a great champion for Ice Ribbon, and she and Tsukka worked a strong match here. But the ringwork and stories must work together, and the booking let them down resulting in a lukewarm crowd for what should otherwise have been a huge moment.

 

 

As usual the Ice Ribbon roster spread among the fans after the show to thank everyone for coming. Always a nice touch.

Overall I enjoyed myself quite a bit, but some of the booking decisions worked against the action and as a result live Ribbonmania came across as a good show that should have been a great one. It’s very likely it will play better on DVD though.

Ice Ribbon 1/3/17 Live Thoughts

January 3, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

Like last year, my last Ice Ribbon event during my trip was their New Year’s show. The show itself though this year was a bit different, as I was lucky enough to see one of IR’s most interesting themed shows.

 

img_6041

Photo op with the roster from this show. 🙂 

 

The opening segment set up this show as Survival Ribbon (YAY!), with teams led by Tsukasa Fujimoto and Ice Cross Infinity Champion Risa Sera respectively. It was pointed out to me by a friend that the teams were divided by time in Ice Ribbon, with Tsukka heading up the veterans and Risa leading the less experienced competitors.

So it split up as Tsukasa Fujimoto, Miyako Matsumoto, Hamuko Hoshi, Mochi Miyagi, Tsukushi, & Kurumi on one team and Risa Sera, Uno Matsuya, Tequila Saya, Kyuuri, Maruko Nagasaki, & Maya Yukihi.

The rules were as follows:

  1. There would be six matches between randomly paired opposing team members.
  2. All winners would advance to the main event, which would be a tag match between whoever won the preliminary matches to determine the overall winning team.

All the undercard matches had five minute time limits, leading to a quick pace and a sense of urgency.

 

The entirety of each team came out to start things out and remained at ringside to cheer each other on, leading to an incredible atmosphere for all six initial matches. Everyone on the outside was highly invested and constantly provided encouragement to those in the ring. It made such a difference and  showed how important it is the have competitors care about the stakes, even if it’s “only” bragging rights.

 

 

 

1) Uno Matsuya vs Mochi Miyagi

Good choice for an opener, with the least experienced member of the roster against a larger, formidable opponent. This match introduced the previously mentioned frantic pace and electric atmosphere, and both were kept up throughout the show. Uno plays a great underdog and looked good here, taking the fight to Mochi at times and persevering to force a time limit draw. Neither wrestler moves on to the main event.

 

 

2) Tequila Saya vs Kurumi

Saya was announced first, and she entered the ring enthusiastically until her opponent was announced, at which point she collapsed in the corner in realization of the task in front of her. Totally put Kurumi over as a monster in five seconds flat before any contact was even made.

The story was similar to the first match, yet the personalities and styles involved made this something distinctly different. Saya survives the assault long enough for time to run out, forcing another 5 minute draw.

 

 

3) Maya Yukihi vs Hamuko Hoshi

This is the point at which IR gives a master class in the theory that predictable is perfectly compelling when done right (as opposed to my complaints about how they handled Ribbonmania’s main). I had an inkling here, and by the end of this match I was 99% sure I knew where everything was going. But between good matchup choices, great action, and logical progression the ride was just as satisfying as if they’d pulled out surprises.

The story for this match was Maya being the equal to former IR champion Hammy, and while both had close calls neither was able to put the other away and once again time runs out without a winner. So halfway through and so far neither team has any representatives in the main event, with both captains left to compete.

 

 

4) Kyuuri vs Tsukasa Fujimoto

So Kyuuri is the one who draws the opposing team captain. I never get tired of this matchup, pitting IR’s biggest up and coming star against its ace. They have incredible chemistry, and they made the most of the available time to put on an a phenomenal contest. Kyuuri matches Tsukka all the way and we have another time limit draw. The teams outside are getting desperate, again adding to the tension and conveying a real sense that these matches are important.

 

 

5) Risa Sera vs Tsukushi

So Tsukushi’s the one who gets to face the reigning champion, in a matchup of the title tournament winner against the one semi-finalist she didn’t have to go through. These are two of IR’s top stars at the moment and like the previous match they make the absolute most of their allotted time. Tsukushi hangs in with the champ and this ends in yet another 5 minute draw.

These preliminary matches needed to be action packed and show desire on the part of all competitors to push as hard as possible to get a win for all these time limit draws to avoid falling flat, and all of them definitely were.

 

 

6) Maruko Nagasaki vs Miyako Matsumoto

And it all comes down to Maruko and Miyako, with whoever wins this being the only person to advance to the finals and thus winning for her team by default. As such the wrestlers on the outside are going INSANE cheering their representative on. On one side is the perennially overmatched underdog Maruko, and on the other the overconfident and mistake prone Miyako. Wonderfully amusing choice for the all important final preliminary contest.

Playing off the urgency, theres a fun part in the middle that’s classic Miyako as she takes her sweet time firing up the crowd and slowly striking Maruko as her teammates flip out over the clock running down. This was a little off formula from the earlier matches, as Miyako just couldn’t stop being Miyako despite the time pressure. Good story to pull out at the end.

The crowd had been seriously engaged throughout each match and as things wound down here the anticipation was palpable. But this too ended in a time limit draw (to the exasperation of both team on the floor), and the ref announced no one had advanced and thus there would be no main event. Risa quickly decided this wasn’t acceptable, and set up a tag match involving the full teams against each other. Logical and well done.

 

As everyone had been at ringside or wrestling for the entirety of all six preliminary matches, they all needed time to go into the back and prepare for / take a momentary break before the “impromptu” main event. So the injured Akane Fujita came out an talked/stalled for a bit until it was time. The crowd seemed engaged with whatever Akane was saying, and it’s nice to see her involved with IR as much as she can be while she recovers.

 

Main Event) 12-Women Tag: Risa, Maya, Kyuuri, Maruko, Uno, & Saya vs Tsukka, Hammy, Mochi, Miyako, Kurumi, & Tsukushi

To everyone’s credit, they managed to match the level of engagement and excitement of the earlier matches and provide a fun, fast paced main event. My memory wouldn’t do justice to the details of twelve wrestlers flying around. Was great though, and the champs team was victorious when Kyuuri rolled up Miyako for the pin. Between wrestling Tsukka to a draw and getting the win for her team here Kyuuri came out of this show looking like a million bucks, which makes me very happy.

 

 

img_6044

 

Just a fantastic show overall from IR. Loved the concept, execution, and energy they kept up from start to finish.

Gatoh Move 12/30/16, 12/31/16, and 1/3/17 Live Thoughts

December 30 and 31, 2016 and January 3, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

img_5962

Awesome keychains featuring Gatoh Move’s core roster. Just missing Riho’s, as it was sold out before I got a chance to get one.

As I mentioned when discussing last year’s Ichigaya shows I was able to attend, these shows from Gatoh Move are unlike anything else I’ve been to, and a lot of fun. The unusual venue and unique atmosphere are something any wrestling fan should check out at least once (preferably more 😉 ).

The Ichigaya events are held in a small room with no ring and two large windows on one wall which are removed for the shows. The crowd itself is effectively the “rope break” marker and the wrestlers will sometimes use the front row to bounce off of for “running the ropes” and the windowsills to jump off of for high risk maneuvers. The limitations of the venue restrict the action in ways compared to “normal” matches, but also provide opportunities for creative variations on standard wrestling elements.

As usual for Gatoh Move all the shows opened and closed with a song/dance performed by Emi, Riho, Kotori, Aasa, and Obi.

Pictures are not allowed during the show but can be taken afterward, so my pics here won’t contain anything from the matches and will only be of the roundtable and dancing following the shows (as well as of some of the great souvenirs I got).

12/30:

First was visiting veteran Kaori Yoneyama against Gatoh Move’s resident rising star in Kotori. Decent pairing, and the story of Kaori trying to dominate and Kotori fighting from underneath provided a nice showing for the developing youngster. Basic but solid. Kotori’s charisma, enthusiasm, and talent stood out during my last trip (as I spotlighted here) and she’s clearly continued to polish and expand her skills  in the intervening year.

Next up was a 3-way featuring Antonio Honda vs Sayaka Obihiro vs Jaki Numazawa. This was a comedy match where after every 2-count the winner got to make a joke using a box of props off to the side. Those that the audience applauded received a point. Most points after a set time won. Pretty much every move done led to a 2-count, as the jokes were squarely the focus here.

Although it’s fair to note that not speaking Japanese put me out of the target audience for this, between not understanding the spoken parts of the jokes and having seen these exact three wrestlers in a similar match last year this fell flat for me and honestly was my least favorite Gatoh Move match of the trip.

Speaking of similarities to last year, the main event of Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi vs Riho & Aasa was amusingly close to the main event of the first show I ever saw at Ichigaya. It was the same except for having Kotori in Aasa’s place.

The rookie looked good here and fit in well among the more experienced competitors. Her pintsized powerhouse gimmick amuses me greatly and she already show flashes of brilliance in the way she uses it. Another solid match with exciting touches.

During the post show roundtable playing cards were drawn to determine teams for the next show’s main event, which ended up being tag team champions Riho & Kotori teaming with Aasa against Emi, Obi, & Mitsuru.

12/31:

Amusing side note: during the opening dance for this show Obi accidentally (and unknowingly) bopped Aasa on the head with her mic. She continued to dance unaware as Aasa rubbed her head and mock scowled for those of us in the window who could see her.

For this show I was sitting in front of the window most often used for jumping off of, etc, which ended up leading to quite a bit of ducking / moving out of the way as all three matches used the window heavily. Kept me on my toes. 😉

The undercard consisted of two mens matches, as all six of the core Gatoh Move roster were in the main event tag match. The opener of Madoka vs Toru Owashi vs Konaka Pehlwan was hard fought but with light touches of humor, mostly involving Toru. It was all kept in the context of everyone trying to win and everything clicked together pretty well. Case in point was the amusing finish. Toru was perched on windowsill (right above me) waiting for an opportunity to jump at one of his opponents who were fighting among themselves, but Madoka rolled Konaka up for the win and the match ended with Toru still in the window. Madoka and Konaka then left and a dumbfounded Toru eventually climbed down and headed out himself.

Masahiro Takanashi vs Cho-un Shiryu was a hard hitting match centered around the vicious strikes both men throw so well. Takanashi in particular thrives in this environment and knows how to make the most of it. Match went for the full ten minute time limit and ended in a draw, staying intense for the duration.

The main event of Emi Sakura, Sayaka Obihiro, & Mitsuru vs Riho, Kotori & Aasa was my favorite Gatoh Move dojo match this trip. Obviously they all know each other extremely well and have great chemistry together, which led to an thoroughly exciting contest with innovative multi person spots and use of the venue. Riho’s double knees to an opponent seated against the wall looks so vicious.

Towards the end Emi and Kotori tumbled out of the window into my (hastily vacated) seat. Kotori held Emi outside to prevent her from making a save as Riho pinned Misturu. Little things like that are excellent uses of the uniqueness of the environment.

This was a more serious show overall, as in contrast to all the other Ichigaya shows I’ve seen the middle match wasn’t a comedy match. I liked the variation, and actually would like to see this as the default rather than the exception.

1/3:

The final Gatoh Move show of my trip started with a singles contest between rookies Aasa and Mitsuru. This was a strong showing and overall I was extremely impressed with both during my trip (especially for their experience). They’re both developing individual styles that suit them and I’ve very interested in seeing them continue to evolve as performers going forward.

 

The formula of a competitive opener and main surrounding a comedy match was back for this show, and in some foreshadowing  Emi Sakura made comments about Antonio Honda and Kaori Yoneyama both being very hungry in her opening comments. This came into play in what I can only refer to as an “orange match,” where in addition to pinfall or submission one could win by placing an orange on a pedestal held by one of the audience members in the front row. Yes, really. There likely is significance I’m missing, but “mechanically” those were the effective rules.

Three oranges were tied up around the room. In between fighting  (which included the wrestlers selling getting hit with the oranges swinging on their ropes like getting punched straight in the face) the oranges were claimed one by one. But as either Yone or Honda went to place it on the pedestal to win, their hunger would get too great and they’d devour the orange instead.

About halfway into the match Aasa quietly came back out and crouched next to the front row, with a fourth orange tied to her head (and a hilariously neutral expression on her face). Later on Honda noticed and took that orange when Yone’s back was turned and stuffed it into his tights. With Yone thinking all the oranges were already eaten, she set Honda up for a splash and turned to get into the windowsill, at which point Honda pulled out the hidden orange and placed it on the pedestal for the win.

So this was BEYOND absurd, but somehow worked and ended up my favorite of all the matches I saw Honda in this trip. It wasn’t trying to be serious, and by embracing its own ridiculousness and being the only comedy match on the show it ended up quite amusing.

img_6035

 

The main event was Riho, Kotori & Madoka vs Emi, Obi & Guanchulo. The latter team was somewhat dismissive of their opponents as well as taking some cheap shots here and there. Guanchulo was a bit over the top, almost cackling with maniacal glee at joining in with the slight heel tendencies employed by Emi. It was a different dynamic than the other six person match with Emi & Obi opposite Riho & Kotori and helped set it apart. It did make the match feel a bit lighter in tone, but it was still suitably competitive and the touches of humor fit and didn’t detract from the action.

Particularly memorable about this match was its creative finish with Madoka and Kotori tying up their opponents in horizontal holds, who Riho then used as stepping stones for momentum to perform a jumping double knee drop on Obi for the win.

Issues between Emi and Kotori continued to build here, including Emi showing disrespect after the match. Their interactions in the two six person tags seems to be leading to a future one one one encounter.

During the post show roundtable Kotori and Riho filled in the eye on a large Daruma (I didn’t catch what goal was achieved), and Honda’s birthday was celebrated with a cake.

img_6013

These shows won’t be for everyone, and I understand some of the criticisms I’ve seen of these shows and their matches feeling “samey” due to format limitations and repeated opponents. But I continue to be impressed as to what the wrestlers can do within those restrictions of the venue / style, and for certain fans (like me) there will great appeal in the nuances of each match and strength of the performers to mitigate those potential downfalls and make repeated visits a joy.

img_6483

Wall display of some of my Gatoh Move souvenirs, including a sign board I won, polaroids with the wrestlers, signed pictures, and the previously shown keychains.