A short excerpt from the Booklet essay by Sophie Mayer.
Kim Longinotto’s 2000 documentary, Gaea Girls (also known as Fighting Women), her fifth film made in Japan, opens with the amped-up excitement preceding a live wrestling bout. Rock music and electronically-processed voices pump up the atmosphere, while lasers catch on the glowing logo for Gaea, one of several competing Japanese women’s wrestling (joshi puroresu) franchises. The camera focuses on the empty wrestling ring and watching audience, literally setting the stage for the documentary to follow as it includes the viewer in the live audience and whets our appetite for the bruising bouts in and out of the ring. That dramatic laser-lit space, empty and waiting, invites our questions: who are the Gaea girls – and moreover, why are they Gaea girls? The opening scene of Shinjuku Boys (1995), which plunges us into an all-singing, all-drinking party at the New Marilyn onnabe club, engages our curiosity similarly, making us curious, and even desiring, participants in the subculture of female-to-male transsexual (FtM) hosts and their clients. The films unfold the answers to our curiosity brilliantly and subtly, as Longinotto’s documentaries so often do, through an intimate and concentrated look at two intimate and concentrated worlds.
Which is not to say that the documentaries are closed shops, either visually or thematically. Gaea Girls’ intensive workout of blood, sweat and tears is punctuated by the razzmatazz of public bouts, with their shiny costumes, audience roar and theatrical pacing, but also by long takes of the agricultural area where the Gaea school is located. The trainees’ punishing physical efforts are contrasted, without comment, with the labour of the farm workers gathering the food that, in turn, fuels the wrestlers (look out for the trainees’ tension-relieving experimental noodle delivery system!). These subtle shots of green fields and quiet lanes are reminiscent of the landscape inserts in Yasujiro Ozu’s films, and suggest Japan’s twentieth century transition from agricultural to post-industrial nation. They also highlight the wrestlers’ work as work – repetitive, difficult, towards a greater end – as do similar punctuating shots in Shinjuku Boys, which show the hosts leaving New Marilyn for the pearly-grey light of early morning Tokyo, walking home (with ice creams, in the closing sequence) past street sweepers, window washers and salarymen just beginning their days.
Sophie Mayer’s complete Essay, from which this short excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet of the DVD release.
UK, 2000 / 1995
Length / Gaea Girls: 99 minutes
Length / Shinjuku Boys: 53 minutes
Sound: Original stereo (restored)
OAR / Gaea Girls: 1.78:1 Anamorphic 16:9
OAR / Shinjuku Boys: 1.33:1 Full frame
Subtitles: English (fixed)
Release Date: 25th January 2010
Second Run DVD 044