There was a point a few months ago where I swore that I’d watch so much TV in in one sitting that my eyes would bleed. There is no doubt in my mind that this is possible, as I’m sure most binge-watchers can testify that when you sit in front of a screen for days just engrossed in some silly TV show it can put a physical strain on those eyes. And well, if you keep pushing, deny yourself sleep and healthy food, and keep wetting those eyes down with coffee, I imagine that I could have eventually made my eyes bleed.
But what kind of an accomplishment is that? I love watching TV alone in my apartment, so why do I need to make the experience painful? I’m not trying to torture myself here, I just want to have a good time.
I decided to change up my stance and approach this quest in a different way, I’ll still watch all that stuff that I want but plan it out so that it’s enjoyable and fun.
Years ago, I would annually curate my own film festival, in my basement using all VHS tapes to show off and enjoy some of the great martial arts movies, wrestling, music, comedy and weird videos that I loved. Why not bring that back? I have the time, and more than ever I have access to the infinite library of content that exists online.
So for the first time in over a decade, I brought back Josh-Tacy, the self-indulgent movie marathon made for me, by me… and here is how it all went down!
1. New Japan Pro-Wrestling G1 Climax Tournament 2014 – Day 4
The G1 Climax Tournament is the Japanese pro-wrestling equivalent of the World Cup. There are two blocks of about a dozen wrestlers, who compete for a few weeks in order to accumulate points and fight to stay atop the rankings. Then at the end, the winners of each block compete in one match to find out who is the best wrestler in the world. The past couple of years, this entire tournament has been streamed online, giving the fans of this unique brand of fight-centric, realistic international pro-wrestling an alternative to the dramatic buffoonery often on display in the WWE.
With the tournament currently in full swing, I decided to sandwich my Josh-Tacy watching between two days of the live stream.
On the 4th Day of the tournament, this great show was capped off by a match-up between ultra-serious, ass-kicker Katsuyori Shibata and the pin-up super-star Hiroshi Tanahashi. Two more diametrically opposed pro-wrestlers you couldn’t ask for. Shibata takes the whole thing so seriously, almost as if he truly thinks this is a real fight. His MMA career influences his in-ring style, as he hits guys with such hard kicks to the face and body that he challenges the audience to call it fake. His opponents look pissed off at having to be in the ring with a guy who doesn’t seem to get that this is ‘professional’ wrestling. Being a guy who once came up in the New Japan Pro-Wrestling farm system, Shibata was touted as one of the next big things when he was young, alongside his opponent on this night Tanahashi. Then Shibata abruptly quit and went into MMA for over a decade, and while he was there talked a lot of shit about pro-wrestling and the stars of today.
On the other side you’ve got Tanahashi, who stuck with it and went to the very top of the industry. Today he is the Hulk Hogan or John Cena of Japan, polarising fans, energising audiences in his main events, and always putting on a huge spectacle. His moves are flashy and exaggerated, and his heart is always clearly on his sleeve in the ring, as you can see the emotional story of a pro-wrestling match play out expertly in his matches, through empathically performed battles of coming back from the brink with the facial expressions that convey the drama wrestling fans know and love.
Tanahashi is huge with kids and women, just a nice, classy guy, who works hard, looks good and wants to impress everyone all the time. Shibata couldn’t give a fuck. He doesn’t care about fans or the entertainment value of the sport, and it’s not even that he’s mean or ‘evil’ in a traditional Western sense of pro-wrestling, he’s a guy who takes the athletic aspect as seriously as possible – he trains, he demonstrates his knowledge of holds and strikes, he physically breaks an opponent down with technical strategy, and never acknowledges or caters to the fans in the audience one iota.
And in what was already a night of phenomenal matches, these two went out there and tore the house down. The battle of styles and wills was on tremendous display, that in the end had that kick-happy demon Shibata beat down Tanahashi into a quivering pile and win the day. One does think – that much like all of pro-wrestling – this is just one chapter in a greater story of triumph for the golden boy hero who will rise from the ashes and claim overall victory in the tournament. Or is this a true changing of the guard moment? Only time will tell, but on this night both warriors put on the match of a lifetime.
2. The Raid 2
I mean, if you saw The Raid – Redemption, then you would pretty much want to see Part 2 as soon as possible. If you didn’t see the original, then you won’t care about this one and I can only assume that you aren’t a fan of amazing things!
No movie could more appropriately follow a night of intense Japanese pro-wrestling than The Raid 2. I mean, both things revolve solely around fighting. Basically, there are not even any women in this movies, like in that Japanese wrestling – no romance or drama – where every moment is being used to set up the next fight scene. It’s a simple formula and it damn well works.
If you enjoyed the innovation of the first movie for the use of multi-stabs and pulling people into the splits as an attack move, then you’ll be as excited as I was to see them adding the ramming of jaws into half-wall edges and the sliding of faces across wall surfaces as new aspects of the movie fight game.
Just like with the New Japan Pro-Wrestling I watched before, I would never recommend The Raid 2 to anyone who isn’t into this kind of thing already, however if you were curious to see how this genre is produced at the peak of all power, then this would be on the one to see. That’s why this is Josh-Tacy, just me watching stuff that I know I will love.
3. Nature Boy Ric Flair – The Definitive Collection
I started off with the 2-hour “documentary” about the career of Ric Flair, a legend to pretty much every wrestling fan in the world.
Sadly these WWE produced quote-unquote documentaries are often very scattered and unbalanced, sometimes spending way too much time on one era and then completely by-passing another. There is never any kind of real storyline thread at all, it’s just random clips presented chronologically, interspersed with various WWE wrestler talking head interviews that rarely offer any kind of insight into the past other than cringe-worthy ass-kissing.
The collection of matches on these DVDs though are always an amazing treat. Over 5 hours of Ric Flair in the ring somehow doesn’t even feel like they’re scratching the surface on his career and leaves me just wishing there were more matches here, which is really crazy.
The saddest part of this set though is seeing Ric Flair in his current emotional state. Actually, he’s in pretty good condition for a guy in his early 60s who has gone through so much physical trauma in his life, but the problem is you really don’t want to see a guy who was so vibrant and tough turn old and sensitive. Especially in such stark video contrast; you watch all these old matches and interviews with a marvellous bastard in his prime and then see this old mess sentimentally blubbering about the good times.
Young Flair was a complete arrogant asshole who could always frustratingly back it up with his performances, slip away from any serious danger or have his back-up gang – The Four Horsemen – come in to save him, so for almost a decade he got to brag about how amazing he was without any real comeuppance. This happens so rarely in the scripted universe of wrestling, where one “bad guy” can get away with his misdeeds for so long, that you start to associate him with just this incredible swagger, like Dr. Doom or the Joker from the comic books. And that’s why I’m willing to shell out for an (a second) 8-hour DVD retrospective on his career. But they really don’t need to show him having lost all of that attitude and now being pushed to tears with just the slightest breeze. I still love to watch the younger Flair with his massive bleached mane, point into the camera and talk about how he’s going to take my woman, but I can’t stand 5 seconds of the same man now looking like a grandmother and sobbing when given the key to a city. I get it, we all get old, but can’t just one of us – once – get to stay young forever? Should have been you Flair, should have been you…
4. Something in the Air
Look, I’m a huge fan of avant-garde director Olivier Assayas, his Irma Vep, Clean, Demonlover and Carlos are all insanely, incredible movies, so I was expecting the same from this one that I basically went into cold… but it was tough to stay awake through this sadly, a huge disappointment and the less said about it the better.
5. The World’s End
So I moved from experimental French drama to British action comedy, ending this double feature with director Edgar Wright’s culmination of what he started in Shaun of the Dead, adrenalized in Hot Fuzz (and perfected in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, although that was not technically part of this informal trilogy).
So I was hyped for this one, especially coming off the bore-fest of that last movie. However, I couldn’t get into the first quarter of the movie, since I’m both a straight edge non-drinker and someone in complete denial of becoming middle aged, so I wasn’t charmed by the British beer jokes or the maudlin cuteness of a high school friendship reunion.
On the other hand, the second half was relentless and I totally loved it. Without giving away too much to those who haven’t seen it, when this movie makes it’s hard twist the action gets amped up big time. And the message of the film changes from one of nostalgia to epic, meaning-of-life shit! I think this is a movie that speaks to the inner Dr. Loser in us all, as it tries to conveniently justify the fuck-uppery of humanity as being more than a detriment but actually the inherent quality that defines our species. Never was a movie more relevant to the past few months on this blog than that, and an apt turn in the film festival over-all. Whereas this watching marathon started out focusing on the almost super-human achievements of great men, muscled up fantasies about the fairy tale heroics that come from hard work and dedication, The World’s End becomes a rousing tribute to the do-nothings of the world and the magic that they can create.
6. Arrested Development Season 4
In an incredible feat of endurance, I started this Netflix exclusive season of 15 episodes at 9am and watched it straight through. It was like having a full-time job again (not that enjoying these great episodes took any kind of work)!
6 years had passed between the cancellation of the series on network TV and this online special that played more like a 9 hour movie than episodes of a typical sit-com. While the comedy might have suffered from this time gap, the sprung-forward age of the actors and just sense memory for the classic moments in the original series, the producers made up for this with a complex interconnectivity between the different episodes which all focused solely on one character at a time. This format is almost a puzzle that dares you to keep up with the references and tie-ins that I think lend itself to the binge-watching experience more than any other show outside of The Wire.
An amazing shift in the theme of the show played on the mounting age of the characters, as the focus of the original series Michael Bluth who was always slightly less selfish than the rest, a good-hearted dad just trying to raise his son with a sense of family in a backwards world of back-stabbing siblings and scheming parents. In this season Michael has become more of a down-on-his-luck loser, seemingly worn down by the lies and conniving of his family over the years and has alienated his son, now in college, in a way that we can’t fully understand until seeing the George Michael Bluth featured episode at the tail end of the season. Once an innocent and moral young goof who’s only real crime has loving his cousin a bit too much, George Michael matured into a true Bluth, concocting plans to make himself look extra cool, humiliate others and raise a fortune in the all-too-real America way of making nothing out of something. In what was always the focal point of the show, their father-son dynamic takes a dark turn at one point that is so well crafted that it makes you look back and think that it might have always there all along. And thus the unintentional theme of redemption for loveable losers in this year’s Josh-Tacy rolled on.
7. New Japan G1 Climax 24 – Day 5
Speaking of losers, let me introduce you to Tetsuya Naito. This man was featured in the main event on this night of the G1 Climax Tournament, and was going to close out Josh-Tacy 2014 against megastar Kaszuchika Okada. The story of Naito and Okada is one of professional contrasts. Naito was the golden boy of the New Japan front office, the star they wanted to push to the ceiling and cross-over to the Japanese mainstream, a teased hair, high-flyer gifted the nickname “Stardust Genius” before ever having really done anything great, let alone of genius.
From a distance he seemed like a sure thing, flashy, athletic, cool… but when put up to scrutiny things looked a bit different, he has a bit of a doughy look with a face that is hardly poster ready (and certainly doesn’t match his pretty-boy rockstar hair), his wrestling was slick but soft, and in the Japanese pro-wrestling landscape of 2014 that isn’t going to cut it against the guys like Shibata (who I discussed earlier) that treat pro-wrestling as if it’s just MMA training. And worst of all, he got injured. A Derrick Rose-esque knee injury that put him out for almost 1 year, just as he was hitting his prime. Upon return, he didn’t move the same, he’d lost a step and it was glaring. New Japan wasn’t ready to abandon all of the handwork they’d done to build this guy up as the future of the company so they begrudgingly kept him in the spotlight despite fan lethargy and new wrestlers lapping him around the track.
And in comes Okada, who was almost literally dropped in the lap of New Japan. A young guy with a cocky sneer, a baby face, the frame of a beast and work in the ring that was stunning audiences. Most of the shock came not from his arrogance but due to the fact that the Japanese pro-wrestling audience is used to the slow progression a wrestler makes from trainee to main event star that they suffered through with Naito. There is a strict hierarchy there that fans and the wrestling promotions buy into. Okada came out of nowhere and was in the main event basically over night. Having spent one year in America wallowing backstage in an independent wrestling company so far removed from the spotlight of the WWE, most would have thought Okada learned nothing on this sabbatical and would need to be re-trained in the Japanese dojos if he ever wanted to be a even a mid-card star. But hot damn was the newly returned Okada main event caliber, miraculously having marathon matches with the biggest names in New Japan and there was no turning back. Naito saw the spot that was supposed to belong to him snatched right out from under him.
That was until the G1 Climax 23 Tournament last summer. After a slow start, Naito came roaring back and won the entire thing. Along with this honour comes a spot in the main event to challenge the New Japan heavyweight champion at the biggest pro-wrestling show of the year in Japan, Wrestlekingdom at the Tokyo Dome, and that champion just so happened to be Okada. Despite this career resurgence, the fans weren’t happy with this proposed main event match and in fact voted for a different match to headline the show, pushing the championship title match down the card for the first time in history. Most likely due to this polling result, New Japan did not put the title on Naito that night. He lost in a good (not great) match to Okada, and the two men were headed in seemingly different directions.
And so here they are, Okada no longer champion but more popular than ever and an odds on favourite to win the tournament. Naito is in the middle of the pack having put on some good performances but convincing no one that he has a shot of repeating as tournament champion this year. After their match was voted out of the main event slot all those months ago, Naito now has the chance to show the wrestling world that he can hang at the top level and maybe steal back a little of that thunder that Okada had taken away from him.
All he needed was a good showing – no, a great showing – and not necessarily a win as we all know that the art of the pro-wrestling is in the performance not the outcome. On this night the pressure was on, could Naito live up to his potential, show the world that he’s not a loser, and dazzle them with genius of stardust that has eluded him for too long?