AS WITH MANY things, Professional Wrestling may not have originated in Japan, but the Japanese certainly perfected it.
Japanese Pro Wrestling, or “Puroresu,” takes the American carnival farce of worked fighting, but treats it with a solemnity and gravitas that lifts the art form to its ballet-like potential.
Sure, in Japan as elsewhere, the cursed Pro Wrestling fan has to sit through a lot of crap before encountering greatness, but in the case of Puroresu it feels like there’s less of the crap, and the greatness stands taller. Vader in the United States, for instance, is awesome, but Vader in Japan is legendary.
Speaking of legendary, among Japan’s giants of Puroresu, Antonio Inoki stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the tallest of them.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m drawn to flaws, imperfections, contradictions, and general messiness. Perfection does nothing for me. But something less than perfect is the gateway to true artistry.
And so it should be no surprise that I find Antonio Inoki a fascinating figure in the world of Puroresu and in combat sports/entertainment generally speaking. Inoki, with his impossibly regal features and otherworldy bearing, is credited with bringing Puroresu to great heights in Japan via New Japan Pro Wrestling. At the same time, his obsession with mixed martial arts and his insistence on proving that NJPW’s “fake” wrestlers could thrive in the world of “real” fighting ended up severely crippling the very Puroresu industry he helped create. Inoki’s body of work then is a personification of the proverbial agony and the ecstasy. A legend who held on a little too long, a little too tightly, and broke the very child he was attempting to embrace in the process.
Here’s an amazing montage put together by a youtube user depicting the highs and lows of Inoki’s legacy. It’s put to the soundtrack of Johnny Cash covering the Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt.” I’m not a big fan of JC or NIN, but this song can make any video accompaniment seem epic/heart wrenching:
And here’s a lighter-hearted look at Inoki as he slaps many fools who are waiting in line to be slapped by the legend at the Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye event in 2000. Look for cameos by The Great Sasake and Jacqueline among others: