Okay, admittedly the films of Minoru Kawasaki aren’t for everyone. The man is as goofy as they come, and seems to have a penchant for dropping animal-suited people into movies of various serious genres. The formula works, and for the most part the humor comes more from the absurdity of the situation than from the actual script. The Calamari Wrestler is probably the most straight-forward example of Kawasaki’s style—a pro wrestler comes back to life as a squid to reclaim his former life—and although this brand of schlock isn’t really equipped to hold up to any sort of serious scrutiny, it is a really goofy and fun way to spend 90 minutes.
The movie begins with Koji Taguchi (Akira) winning the IMGP championship title belt by defeating Hiyama utilizing his special finishing move, the reverse-inverted full nelson. While basking in the glory of finally climbing to the pinnacle of Super Japan Pro Wrestling the championship belt is suddenly snatched out of his hands. He spins around to find a squid standing in the corner of the ring holding his belt on one of his giant tentacles. Ring assistants try to drag him from the ring, but to no avail. Taguchi decides to take matters into his own hands and squares off with the squid. A fierce battle ensues and he eventually attempts to lock the squid in the reverse-inverted full nelson. He loses his grip, causing the color commentator to astutely exclaim, “Joint locks don’t work on an invertebrate! He’s too slippery!” The skirmish continues until the squid executes an amazing “Northern Light Suplex”, recognized by Taguchi’s girlfriend, Miyako (Kana Ishida) as the same move made famous by her ex-boyfriend, Kan-Ichi Iwata (Osamu Nishimura). Iwata once stood atop the Super Japan Pro Wrestling circuit. Now it seems he has returned to claim what was his. The only problem is he was thought to have died from an illness years ago, and oh yeah… he’s now a squid.
The rest of the movie explores the squid’s origin further (okay, not much further) and expands on Taguchi’s rivalry with Iwata, having always been in his shadow when they trained together in the past. Miyako is caught in the middle because she’s now dating Taguchi but also still has feelings for Iwata. It’s the same old “boy meets girl, girl loses boy, girl gets new boy, old boy comes back as squid, girl dumps boy for squid” melodrama you see rehashed over and over in movies nowadays. She chooses Iwata of course, if for nothing else than the comedic value of seeing them stroll arm-in-tentacle through the park or go for a walk in the city, shopping bags dangling from all his flailing appendages.
At this point we get the as Iwata begins training for his next match, culminating with the most hilariously absurd training montage this side of Hard to Kill. You haven’t guffawed in utter disbelief until you’ve seen a squid doing sit-ups or putting all his concerted effort into intense cardio on a chintzy ski machine. Of course in keeping with the theme of the rest of the movie the ending is appropriately over-dramatic and implausible.
The humor in “The Calamari Wrestler” is not exactly subtle, but it never really goes out of its way to be overtly wacky either. It’s obvious that this is a movie that’s completely aware of what it is but it still attempts to play everything straight so as not to insult its audience. It’s a fine line to walk and I doubt it could have worked any other way. The bottom line is either you’re someone who’s into this sort of cheese-factor or you’re someone who will find it completely stupid and unwatchable. Chances are if you’ve read this far you’re one of the former, so you might as well check it out. Whether or not you ever admit that you actually watched it afterward is up to you.