If anything, this film should settle any arguments as to whether professional wrestling is mere silly performance or blood wrenching sport. When I lived in Japan, I often saw flyers for women’s professional wrestling matches and usually disregarded them. I wish I hadn’t.
“Gaea Girls” (another excellent Women Make Movies release) documents the daily lives of the women of “Gaea Japan,” a professional wrestling stable based outside of Tokyo. Behind the glitz and glamour of public wrestling bouts, the women train daily in an environment that appears more like a prison camp than a sports training facility.
The women are largely isolated, presumably far away from transportation and having none of their own. They live, train and work in a depressing prefab garage and training facility, with few amenities. Training, daily chores and meals are all taken in the same room, and rudimentary sleeping quarters are made out of converted closets. The ascetic conditions are reminiscent of those of the remnants of Aum Shinrikyo depicted in Tatsuya Mori’s fantastic pair of documentaries, “A” and “A2.” In essence, the two groups are the same.
Violence against of trainees is common. The senior members of group appear to be uninhibited in their daily psychological abuse and constant verbal beratement of their juniors, even in the presence of a foreign film crew. There is no indication that any of the girls are paid for their services. In fact, it is implied that the women’s parents are in fact paying Gaea Japan to violently abuse their daughters.
The elder wrestler Chigusa Nagayo, a former member of the Crash Girls, another wrestling group, does not live at the training facility, but rather arrives by car every morning. She rarely trains with the junior members and never seems to even break a sweat as she intensely hurls insults and physical pain on her trainees.
In a particularly painful scene, we watch as a prospective wrestler, Takeuchi, runs a brutal gauntlet against four of her seniors, spilling blood, sweat and tears profusely in order to achieve the ultimate goal of being allowed to publicly wrestle in a Gaea Japan match. At the end, Chigusa verbally reduces Takeuchi to a crying child, before finally informing her that she has passed her final test.
While the outcomes of the matches may be fixed, there is no doubt that the blood and injuries in women’s wrestling are entirely real. It is never explicitly stated, but one can assume that the girls depicted in “Gaea Girls” do not come from affluent means. The very few interviews in the film reveal that the women want to be “noticed,” indicating that many of prospective recruits have been overlooked and possibly abused for most of their lives.
A telling interview with Chigusa indicates a long history of parental abuse in a military family. Given her entirely masculine speech forms, it is implied that her father raised her as a son rather than a daughter. Clearly, she has serious personal battles to wage despite her smiles and light attitude when not in training. Many indications as to her gender conflicts are given in the multiple references to the forgone parenthood that she uses to justify her incredible abuse of her trainees.
The question though, outside of the obvious gender issues depicted in “Gaea Girls,” is truly a societal one. The violent physical and psychological abuse of juniors in the pursuit of skill and position most certainly is not restricted to wrestling groups. In fact, it pervades throughout Japan in just about every facet of personal and working life. While many of Japan’s successes can certainly be credited to the dedicated work ethic and often masochistic dedication of the Japanese, violence and abuse are not without incredible costs. One wonders exactly when and why Japan became this way, and if there is ever to be a future where it doesn’t exist.