Puroresu Pulse, issue 194: More With Hisa
by David Ditch on April 21, 2011

Section 1- Results

New Japan: Devitt & Taguchi retained the junior tag titles at K-Dojo. Naito & Takahashi won the tag title contendership match to earn a title shot on the 3rd. Makabe beat Kojima.

NOAH: Notable results from the tag league so far include Hero & Claudio over Takayama & Sano; Sugiura & Yone over Morishima & Yoshie and Hero & Claudio; Morishima & Yone over Hero & Claudio.

Section 2- News

Misc: All Japan, New Japan and NOAH are teaming up for an all-star charity show at Nippon Budokan on August 27th.

New Japan: This year’s Super Juniors tournament has the biggest field ever, with two blocks of nine. Block A includes Devitt, Kanemoto, Tiger Mask, Davey Richards, Kenny Omega, Fujita Hayato and TJP. Block B includes Liger, Sasuke, Taka Michinoku and Ibushi. Another Kojima vs Makabe match is set for the 3rd.

NOAH: Sugiura vs Minoru Suzuki is official. Marufuji is out indefinitely because of a nerve problem in/around his spine. He’s apparently been working through it for a while. Might not take long, but it’s hard to tell.

Section 3- SHILL TOGETHER

Which is worse: 2000 WCW or 2011 TNA?

How about “both”? They’re bad in different ways. At least WCW was a new failure, while TNA is trying to be 2000 WCW. The Carters are spending millions to emulate something that lost a mint. Dixie is quite possibly the biggest mark of all time.

A commenter pointed to how bad the highest-rated Raw actually was. I’ll add that for as bad as WCW got I was still a ‘WCW’ guy until Russo took over. Raw was crappy wrestling, repetitive catchphrases and shock value. WCW at least had a ton of in-ring talent.

Section 4- 2010, a mere three and a half months late

Results for the Japan 2010 MOTY vote I ran at the DVDVR board. You’ll notice it varies a lot from the Wrestling Observer flavor selection (ie. juniors matches). And you’ll notice that it’s April.

On the first: DVDVR has long had a soft spot for shoot-style, which is why Ikeda’s Futen promotion did so well. The contrast between gritty, in-your-face brutality and the clean athleticism of Devitt or Yoshino is marked. Okay, so what’s the point of the poll if all it does is reflect the board’s quirks? Well, if you look closer you’ll see that a wide variety of styles, promotions and wrestlers are represented in the top 50, the vast majority of which flies under the WON radar. Dick Togo the touring maestro, Big Japan’s non-deathmatch crew, and assorted indy hidden gems are all given some spotlight, because at least some part of the community watches EVERYTHING. The end result is a list that doesn’t show anything resembling a consensus on what’s good, but does show that there’s something for everyone.

On the second: unlike a few years ago when the major promotions were responsible for what can reasonably be described as ‘consensus’ top matches, now the landscape is such that untelevised indies need to be given a look to see if they’re bringing the goods more than the big boys. In 2008 it was Battlarts, and this year it was Futen. The problem is that Futen’s DVDs take a while to come out and tend to be wildly expensive. The number two match in the vote was one that didn’t start circulating until three weeks ago.

Ikeda & Oba vs Hashi & Mashimo, Futen October 24th. Oba is a Futen-only guy who is goofy but can bring it when things get serious. Hashi, cast off from NOAH, really shined in Futen thanks to a strong work ethic and a willingness to go headlong into the ‘Bati-Bati’ style. Mashimo of Kaientai Dojo was the key to my 2008 Japan MOTY, and in Futen he’s able to use his strikes and personality to great effect. Ikeda is someone I never liked in NOAH because he seemed lazy and toned-down, but in his own company he cuts loose. They key to why this match did so well is the extended finishing sequence between Ikeda and Hashi, which is dramatic and oh-so-stiff.

It’s not that you *must* enjoy the match. It’s that at worst it’s one of countless matches you can dislike and forget about, but you might end up absolutely thrilled by it. The reason why I put so much effort into Japanese MOTY projects isn’t to force people to like what I do, but rather to make sure everything that’s good gets the recognition it deserves, and to make sure that puro fans get a chance to see the matches they’ll love the most no matter how obscure those matches might be.

Section 5- Hisa Part 2

Q: It seems clear that Japanese fans believed wrestling was real when it started, and now they all know it isn’t. Here in the US, goofy gimmicks and a hostile press exposed kayfabe decades ago. Did anything specific happen to break kayfabe in Japan?

A: Similar to the US, there were always people who criticized it for being fake, all the way back to the Rikidozan-Kimura match. Still, I believe the ratio of people who believed it was “real” over those who thought the otherwise was much higher in Japan. As far as I know, major papers such as Mainichi, Asahi, and Yomiuri haven’t covered puroresu results since the Rikidozan era. All sports papers still do, however.

In modern day history, the biggest impact was probably the second version of UWF, which would eventually evolved into the MMA in Japan. I still don’t think that was the biggest reason for the decline of puroresu popularity. I believe the failure to create a true crossover star was as much as the UWF/MMA if not more. After all, we haven’t had a real star since Inoki and Baba.

(To expand on the UWF point, quite often shoot-style wrestlers would call other promotions ‘fake’, and they tended to be strict about keeping pro-style off their shows as much as possible. UWFi lost a lot of its credibility when they started having matches with New Japan, WAR, and even using Abdullah the Butcher, leading to the promotion’s demise at the end of 1996.)

Q: Why did ‘gaijin’ remain such an important part of puroresu, even after WW2-related hostility faded? Was it about having enough great foreign wrestlers so that Japanese promotions would be seen as world-class?

A: I wouldn’t say “world-class”; to this day, neither All Japan nor New Japan has recognized its own version of the “world heavyweight champion”. They never claimed to be the top of the world (although in the eyes of many fans, they really were). But at least they meant to be “international”. Also, having gaijins would provide more variety in the bookings. I believe Rikidozan set a pattern by bringing different gaijins for each “series” (tours), having them beat the prelims and mid-carders just to get beaten by Rikidozan at the end of the tour. That way, those gaijins can always have a fresh comeback to Japan several months later. Usually, the gaijins were heels and Japanese were hometown heroes. This style continued until the mid-1980s.

So, what changed? It’s hard to pick one factor. Between the late-1970s and the early 1980s, some gaijins became so popular that they could no longer be booked as the heels (the Funks, Mascaras, Backlund, Steamboat, Hogan etc.). Still, they were always “gaijins” anyway. The rise of Riki Choshu in the early 1980s brought the hot feuds among the Japanese natives and showed a possibility that the promotions may not always have to rely on the gaijin talents.

Another thing was the national expansions by WWF and JCP in the US, which limited the gaijin stars available to the US. Both companies always wanted to keep their top stars on their own tours, and the guys who used to wrestle in Japan could no longer be there. The so-called “world” champions stopped defending their titles outside their companies. On the other hand, some gaijin talents who were not signed by WWF or JCP (or decided not to) started wrestling in Japan almost every series. This might have lessened the line between the natives and gaijins. For example, some Japanese guys started teaming with gaijins regularly (Tenryu & Hansen, Kobashi & Johnny Ace).

One more thing. This may be just my opinion. At least in puroresu (not in lucha libre or American style), the best match between two Japanese is always better than the best match between a Japanese and a gaijin. I think those great feuds among the natives in the 1980s and 1990s showed that.

(I’m with him in preferring Japan vs Japan to Japan vs Gaijin, but I think it might have been different had there not been the gaijin talent squeeze that so changed things as the ‘80s and ‘90s progressed.)

Q: Was wrestling from the US widely watched in Japan? I know it has aired in Japan in one form or another for a long time, but it’s hard to tell whether it was really that important.

A: I don’t think so, at least not in the pre-internet days. Magazines always had coverage on the wrestling scenes from North America, but in terms of the video footages, not much. New Japan and All Japan often showed matches from other countries especially when Japanese stars toured in those countries or NWA World Heavyweight Title was changed hands, but that was about it. Once a while, they might show a TV studio squash involving the wrestler(s) who would come to Japan for the first time, but it was rare. TV Tokyo, a minor network, used to air a weekly show in the 1980s featuring the cards from North America, but it didn’t last long. The show also brought the controversies because they often showed the regulars of New Japan or All Japan and brought conflicts with other networks that had contracts with those promotions.

Q: Did you start watching US pro wrestling after you moved in ’87? If so, how did you feel it compared to Japan?

A: I couldn’t wait watching the US wrestling. As soon as I got here, I checked the TV Guide and looked for it. What a total disappointment it was. Immediately, I was embarrassed to admit that I was a wrestling fan. We were always told that the US was the “mecca” of pro-wrestling. Historically it was, and maybe it still was then and is today.

But imagine this. Here I am, growing up watching more realistic stuff from the early 1980s in Japan where it was treated more as a sport compared to the US, and what did I get? The infamous mid-1980s cartoony WWF, GLOW, etc. All the free TV shows were filled with squashes and interviews, which meant nothing to someone like me who didn’t speak much of English. Plus, some of those shows were taped at small TV studios, which was unbelievable to someone like me who was so used to watch arena cards broadcasted live on TV. Looked so cheap. Well, it was the late 1980s, and wrestling in this country was already something to laugh about anyway…

Speaking of the interviews, it is another big difference between Japan and the US. In Japan, we had a belief that real warriors show what they have in actions but not in talking. It changed over the years, but traditionally, samurai should keep their mouth shut. Here in the US, fighters had to talk before they actually show what they were supposed to do. Most of the time, they talked way too much AFTER the match when they were supposed to have fought tough matches and be too tired to talk. It took some time for me to realize that’s just a difference in the cultures.

Similarly, another cultural difference was the gestures and reactions. I’ve heard some people say Japanese were boring/bland, but to us, Americans are over-reacting and loud. Soon after I came to this country, I learned that that’s how Americans were, but I couldn’t connect that to pro-wrestling for a while and kept wondering why they had to talk too much before, during, and after the matches with a lot of facial expressions like they went insane. Again, I had to learn that’s how Americans are in general. Until I got better idea and sense of the language and culture of this country, I never knew what was so great about Ric Flair. I still don’t think he is the greatest, but now I understand why he is/was so popular here (I guess he was a great worker, but to many Japanese fans, he didn’t look very realistic, especially compared to other world champs such as Race and Bockwinkel) and eventually became a fan myself.

Q: Have you watched US wrestling much in the modern era (ie. after 1997)?

A: Yes. I enjoyed some of the WWF Attitude Era as well as the early nWo stuff. I still do watch RAW and Impact! if I’m home on Mon or Thursday nights (rarely home on Friday nights because I go to a weekly prayer meeting at church). Never ordered PPVs from WWF or TNA, though. I’ve been to some indy shows around here too. ROH, PWS, JAPW, Dragon Gate, NYSWF (holds benefit shows in my neighborhood once every few years), etc. I also run a regional wrestling website that covers many promotions around NYC.

In the 1990s, I was a big fan of Ric Flair and Chris Benoit. I like Alberto del Rio, but again, I don’t watch Smackdown! that often. I liked Bryan Danielson in ROH and other indies, but he seemed to have toned down (or forced to be?) in WWE.

Q: Any Japanese Matches/promotions/wrestlers (from the past) you think deserve more attention?

A: I think IWE deserves more recognition. It was the first promotion in Japan that used the entrance music, booked death matches, and sent its wrestlers to sambo training. In Japan, it is popular among the older fans, but it doesn’t appear that way in other countries. Of course, if you compare their stuff to ECW or CZW, it’s probably boring. We are talking about the 1970s, however. They were very innovative. What wrestling promotion in the 1970s can be famous for the traditional technical style of Europe AND the death matches such as steel cage and indian strap?

Also, there are several people who tried to take credit for discovering Andre the Giant, who left Europe and moved to Canada in 1970. In fact, thanks to IWE, he had already started getting attention in Japan before that. I believe Billy Robinson and Tony Charles found a way to the US through IWE as well. More about IWE at puroresu.com.

(IWE had very little footage survive and make its way to the tape traders. In recent years several DVD sets were released in Japan, and as those have circulated they show what Hisa is talking about. They had the hardcore/bloodshed element, but also some cutting-edge action from wrestlers like Mighty Inoue and Animal Hamaguchi.)

Q: How big was joshi in the ’70s-’80s relative to NJ and AJ? It’s clear that AJW was very successful but it’s hard to compare.

A: Yes, it is hard to compare. Remember, it was all about All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling, which had the monopoly in the joshi scene between the late 1960s and 1986, except when IWE briefly had a women’s division between 1974 and 1976.

As you probably know, girls were forced to retire at 28 or 29 back then. They had very short careers. That made the popularity of joshi puroresu always temporary (I guess this is the answer to your question). They had Mach Fumiake, who was the first crossover star from joshi puroresu, having hit records and singing at the wrestling cards, between 1974 and 1976. She set the precedence to the teen idols who would follow her later, such as the Beauty Pair (Jackie Sato & Maki Ueda) of the late 1970s and the Crush Gals (Lioness Asuka & Chigusa Nagayo) of the mid-1980s. These five are really the only crossover stars from the joshi puroresu in those decades (Jaguar Yokota became popular several years ago due to her story of post-40 pregnancy). I’m not sure if they had any significant star at all since then. None to my knowledge anyway.

Another thing is that All Japan Women’s had the TV show in an irregular basis. They had a weekly show in the mid-1980s, but it didn’t last long.

(By ‘significant star’, he refers to mainstream/pop culture figures. Wrestlers like Aja Kong and Manami Toyota were only known by pro wrestling fans.)

———————————–

My thanks to Mr. Tanabe for his voluminous replies! I expect to return to him in the future when I’m researching puroresu history.




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David Ditch

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  • Maks

    Wow, that interview was so.. insightful. I guess I always knew that puroresu has a lot do to with the Japanese culture, but I wasn’t (and still am not) sure how much ties there really are. However, this interview really shed some light on the issue!
    Thanks Ditch, this was excellent.

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