Doglegs is an underground pro wrestling league in Tokyo that pits disabled wrestlers against the able-bodied. the renegade wrestler of Doglegs risk everything to smash stereotypes and kick ass.
I had the pleasure to experience this documentary, filmed over the past five years by HeathCozens, at the Hot Docs film festival in Toronto. I say experience, as opposed to watch, because there were so many emotions that are associated with what I just sat through. I attended with two other members of the League of Lady Wrestlers, and we were very excited yet skeptical about what we were about to endure. A film about handicappedpuro in Japan… That’s quite the topic. Is it an exposé? Is it exploitative? Is the gaze meant to be humorous? It definitely set out what it’s meant to and it makes you think and be introspective in how you perceive differently abled folk and their credibility when it comes to wrestling. We got to stick around afterwards for a Q and A with the director and it was even brought up by another audience member on how this is related to misogyny and how women aren’t seen as believable wrestlers. This hit close to home but also shed a light onto a subject in the world of wrestling that is oft overlooked.
Director Heath Cozens stated “When I first sawDoglegs I didn’t know what to think of it either. I also went into it feeling that I might have to make some kind of exposé of abuse, or something like that. I went to a match and started feeling all these strange feelings then realized that they were mixing it up like that, and that making me feel shock, horror, joy, sympathy, amusement and guilt simultaneously was there by design. My goal with the film was to replicate that experience that I went through.” He definitely achieved that experience, at least that’s how I felt on the spectator end of the film.
The documentary follows the stories of three different members of the Doglegs club: Sambo Shintaro, L’amant, and Yuki Nakajima. We actually had the pleasure of meeting Nakajima after the film and he was delighted to hear we are also wrestlers.
Overall it was about more than just the wrestling with spotlights on invisible disabilities such as depression and how Nakajima is seen within the league as an outsider; Shintaro, his love of wrestling and need to defeat his able bodied mentor; and L’amant who struggles with cerebral palsy, alcoholism and wrestles his wife in the ring.
There was so much volatility from the characters and we got to go along their journey with them. Nakajima and Shintaro both spoke to how some very embarrassing personal moments had made it into the film, but came to terms with them and accepted that it was part of the story that needed to be told.
I don’t feel that there is an easy conclusion to be derived from the film or the concept of Doglegs itself, and it’s meant to sit with you. The goal of the league is definitely to make you think and over the years they may have lost that shock and awe they are looking to stir in their audience, but they still have events twenty years later with two hundred spectators made up of a mix of friends, family and other members of the disabled community.
My overall take from this film is that it needs to be watched to be understood, and it’s definitely worth going to see if you have the opportunity. There will be two more screenings at Hot Docs this week in Toronto.