Wednesday, April 22, 2009
A humble attempt to review 6/3/94: Movement The First
As I contentedly munch upon the intoxicating sweetness of a mochi Pocky, I reflect on all that the diminutive island nation of Nippon has bestowed upon me. Whether it's their demure and elegant women or their bell-like language that rings upon my ears like the sweetest aroma of a wisteria blossom on a summer's breeze, much is owed to this oriental paradise. But one thing stands above all others. The date lives on in all true fans minds. Above our birthdays, above our anniversaries, above Easter and Thanksgiving and Christmas. June Third, Nineteen and Ninety-four. Those who know need no explanation. But for those who don't know, here is my humble attempt at relating to you... the greatest professional wrestling match in the history of the world.
Mitsuhara Misawa wears a silver jacket. There is a certain pomp, a certain... flash to his ways. He is the golden boy of All Japan Pro Wrestling and he knows it. Toshiaki Kawada, on the other hand, is the polar opposite. Startlingly difficult to look at, hapless in combat against Misawa... the everyman of Japan.
We start simply enough. Misawa presents the triple crown belts to the referee, Kawada warms up in the corner. Such elegance in storytelling. Such subtlety.
Streamers, as though manna from heaven, rain down upon our competitors. We wait in delicious yet painful anticipation. The referee admonishes them both sternly... we WILL have a clean fight. Not that we have anything to fear from these two stoic warriors. Honor is a guarantee!
They stand, facing off. At the risk of foregoing journalistic neutrality, I already feel a shiver of delight coursing through my body. A lockup, just one, leads to nothing but respect. The second an exchange of strikes. On the third, a spinning kick thunderously collides with Misawa's jaw sending him to the floor. Misawa quickly follows with a hellacious backdrop driver as though from the pits of Hades itself.
Forgive me readers. There is no way I can document each occurrence in this match, though I surely could, easily from memory. So ingrained in my memory is this match that I can yell along with the commentators despite being the most baka of gaijin. There words fall from my mouth like water from the rainclouds, inexorable and perfect.
The action spills to the outside, but that is no matter for the high flying Misawa. Or is it? With a simple maneuver, the homely Kawada demolishes the debonair Misawa. This is Kawada's night. Can you feel it? Does the electricity move you as it does me?
Back in the ring, Kawada's punishing kicks and grinding submission maneuvers ground the flamboyant Misawa; this boy emperor of the Budokan. A lump moves to my throat, the first tears spill from my eyes as Kawada hybridizes a Boston crab into something more, something other.
Dangerous K, as he is sometimes known, thrusts Misawa into the corner and unleashes kicks in much the same way Tojo's shining warriors unleashed raining death on the hapless Americans of Pearl Harbor. A pin, a count of two. We're not done tonight, readers. Not by a long shot.
Kawada remains on the offensive, continuing to work as an antagonist for Misawa's unearthly style. What is an angel, after all, if it lacks wings?
A man of pride, Misawa desires to show he too can yield his feet as weapons. He regains control with his own kicks, quick strikes, a tactical offensive that serves to demoralize just as much as wound.
Knowing that without the power in his legs Kawada is yielded a harmless kitsune pup, Misawa goes to work on the mighty trunks of the man who is quickly becoming our protagonist. In Kawada, we see ourselves. Not the most beautiful, not the most flashy, but beings with truth and purity on our sides. Against all of my judgment, my fists are clenched, my teeth as well. Kawada-san, please...
Like a tiger stalking its prey, Misawa skulks around the ring, beholding Kawada's injury, teeing off on him with kicks at will. An act of mercy, to end this match. And yet, Misawa is not a merciful man. KA-WA-DA chants the crowd. And we at home, gently chant along.
Perhaps buoyed by this moral support, Kawada attempts a suplex. Once, twice, no. A spin kick quickly puts him down again. Kawada is unable to mount any significance offense. Are we nearing an end to this contest? Perhaps not, friends. Perhaps not! Kawada shows that his kicks are without peer and goes for a pin. 1...2... no. There is still fight left within Misawa's samurai soul. Enough fight, indeed, to reverse a powerbomb into a backdrop. But not enough fight, enough burning spirit, to prevent the dropkick to the back of his skull.
Aloft on a cloud of revenge, Kawada delivers a seemingly endless supply of chops to the neck of Misawa. Again, only good for 2. It will not be that easy, my friend. A kick to Misawa and we see blood ooze from his ear. Do you doubt the veracity of the combat within this match? Then you are truly a fool.
Misawa, back in control, an astounding figure, trickling his life's very blood, a tiger driver, a two count. Perhaps it is that Kawada is no slouch himself, Mr. Misawa? A frog splash as well.. to no avail. This Kawada is a survivor.
A brief aside, if I may, about the vast superiority of Japanese audiences to those of America. Their attention is held rapt, entirely devoted to this contest. No rude and vulgar chants are head, no garishly attired men in hockey jerseys trying to "get themselves over." It is sublime and universal to Japan, that rarest of nations where the perfect storm of etiquette and glory have swirled together.
Misawa still resists the powerbomb, but no force on earth can withstand those of Kawada's fearsome boots. Sufficiently softened up, a backdrop driver scores. Finally, the powerbomb hits. And a count of two follows. The exhaustion is palpable. If we, the viewers, weren't so enthralled, we might be exhausted too.
But tiredness is no excuse and it is a pleasure to watch Kawada go to work. He is a surgeon, the ring is his operating table. More spectacular moves and yet Misawa does not fall. There is no yield in this man, not even when placed in the destructive submission maneuvers of Kawada. These moves could bend steel, but some things are stronger than steel. Things such as Misawa's constitution as he regains control. A tiger suplex and we literally cannot believe what we are seeing. Next to this, the Olympics are an imaginary game for children, a mere babe's prattling games.
A striking imagine, Misawa steeling himself to return to the ring. He must, and yet he knows what is to come: An exchange of elbows and kicks that sees him temporarily on top. Still, at what point does a man simply say "No more?" All things must come to an end, even the championship reign of this warrior. But resignation is not on the menu today and so the struggle continues.
Summoning within himself some final reserve of power, Misawa utilizes the final move in his arsenal, the nuclear option as it were: The tiger driver '91. And this finally, FINALLY, puts Kawada away.
We are spent. We are speechless. And, yes, once again, we are moved to tears at this spectacle, this metaphor for the human condition. It is a symphony in countless parts, a mummer's tale of bravery. There are very few words in this entry compared to that which runs through my heart, through my mind, and through my soul. But if I could put those words to paper, perhaps I'd be a quarter of the artist that Toshiaki Kawada or Mitsuhara Misawa are.