FMW: Torn to Shreds

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“Megumi Kudo: the real ‘Barb Wire’…”

I really wanted to use little barb-wire icons to mark this one, instead of the usual stars, but whenever I typed in “barb wire jpg” into search engines, I always seemed to find myself staring at Pamela Anderson.  Yes, get those digressions out of the way early, that’s what I always say…

This is the sixth in Tokyo Pop’s ongoing series of releases featuring Japanese wrestling from the FMW (Frontier Martial-arts Wrestling) federation, and while the others have all contained women’s matches, it’s the first to concentrate exclusively on this angle. So credit to them for putting out what is – correct me if I’m wrong – the first official release of Japanese women’s wrestling in the West. Unfortunately, that’s largely where the credit stops as far as they’re concerned.

To start with, FMW are a long way from being the best Japanese federation for women’s wrestling – they don’t even bother these days, having given up several years ago (these bouts largely date from 1995, so are hardly current) and think they might even have gone bankrupt now. Secondly, in line with FMW’s policy of hardcore – they’re kinda the Japanese equivalent of ECW – the women have largely been chosen for their willingness to do the extreme stuff, rather than any actual wrestling ability. This shows itself most prominently in the case of Shark Tsuchiya, whom I’ve encountered on several “unofficial” tapes, and is definitely one of the worst pro wrestlers I’ve seen. It’s significant that the best wrestler to be seen in this title is KAORU, who’s actually from another federation.

Thirdly, while they could have cherry-picked the best matches, most of the fights here are off one card, including lame rookie bouts not really worthy of note. [People like Sonoko Kato might be good now, but she had a lot to learn in those days…and was unlikely to do it in FMW] Fourthly, and most damningly, since the others are perhaps less within Tokyo Pop’s control, the two presenters are awful. John Watanabe is clueless, while his irritatingly fey partner, Eric Geller, annoyed me in a disturbingly Tarantino-esque way. On the DVD, you can at least switch to Japanese commentary during the matches, but you will want to skip their inter-bout “banter”.

There’s only one bout here that’s genuinely memorable, and it’s purely on a geek-show level. It’s part of the long rivalry between Shark Tsuchiya and the queen of FMW, Megumi Kudo, and is notable for it being a barbed-wire match, with the ropes of the ring being replaced by strands of (entirely genuine, I might add) barbed-wire. Having seen Kudo fight in cards for other promotions, I know she can actually wrestle, but there’s no sign of that here, stuck as she is with a useless lump like Tsuchiya. The bout follows almost the same pattern as all their others: Tsuchiya brutalises Kudo, Kudo bleeds, Kudo comes back gallantly.

The only major change here is how much Kudo bleeds: it’s buckets. I’ve seen few men’s matches as gory, and this is certainly among the worst of women’s bouts (there was a cage match pitting Shimoda and Mita against Watanabe and Ito that may come close). Kudo takes some severe bumps, particularly against the folding table that just won’t give, taking four attempts to break it [the Japanese must make them of stronger stuff!] You’ll probably find yourself shaking your head as Kudo’s face becomes totally red, a mask of blood.

The DVD offers some extras: brief highlights from an additional bout, extra footage of Watanabe and Geller (oh, joy…), a picture gallery of FMW wrestlers and some cheesecake footage of Kudo, which you’d be advised to watch before you see her gushing blood, as that will likely destroy any cuteness factor present for her. In other words: nothing to sway the vacillating purchaser.

As mentioned, it’s good to see this release, even if as an introduction to Japanese women’s wrestling, it’s largely a failure, being neither representative, nor good enough to attract the casual viewer. Meanwhile, the hardcore fan will likely have the bouts already, and will certainly possess better. This is a shame since there are some phenomenal athletes to be found, and it’s an area deserving of exposure here, particularly given the largely-woeful state of mainstream women’s wrestling. If it opens the gate to other, better titles, it’ll have performed an excellent, much-needed job, but on the whole, you should go for some of the unofficial tapes available through the Internet: names to look for would include Manami Toyota, Akira Hokuto, Aja Kong, Kyoko Inoue and Mima Shimoda. And definitely not Shark Tsuchiya…

Star: Megumi Kudo, Shark Tsuchiya, KAORU, Combat Toyoda

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