Hello ladies and gentlemen, Muldoon here in the middle of Fantastic Fest 2015. While horror and fantasy populate the bulk of this incredible festival, it’s not entirely a genre fest as evident with a screening of Heath Cozen’s most recent documentary. The film has an incredible lineup of great subjects with real problems, real emotions, and one really interesting hobby – getting in a ring and beating the hell out of each other. This is exceptionally interesting provided that each of these individuals has a disability of some kind, like cerebral palsy, severe depression, or some form of a very real physical disability.
“Muldoon! The thought of this is an outrage!” Trust me, I hear you - that was my knee-jerk reaction as well. This film is not an exploitation doc by any means. Cozen does an incredible job spending time with each of his subjects, all members of the Doglegs fighting club, a place for individuals with severe disabilities to fight in a small arena crowded with disabled and able bodied individuals alike, all there to see individuals push their limits and do something physical that they’ve been told they can’t their entire lives. With brutal head-smashings and harsh hits to the side, there’s not a chance in hell of this flying in America. Doglegs is a name these individuals take pride in, an opportunity and hobby that they truly enjoy and are proud of.
The film’s primary subject is “Sambo” Shintaro, is charming man who accidentally kicked off Doglegs back in 1991 in a Tokyo volunteer group for the disabled. Shintaro and another member of the group both fell for the same volunteer. Over time that rivalry grew to a physical rivalry and grew to include rules, regulations, and roughly 200 individuals a match all there to cheer on their favorite disabled warriors. The film brings us along with Shintaro for some rather interesting life moments, his initial announcement of retirement, falling for a girl, handling a day job, and more… He’s such a powerful force of a man that when he gets hit hard in the ring, you feel it. When he gets rejected by an employer or a lady or anything really, you feel it. This goes back to Cozen’s selection of subjects, the most important thing for a doc (great subjects = great drama) and Shintaro brings drama in spades. The man is pure emotion and utterly interesting where you just want to go hang out with him.
If you’re hoping to see something truly unbelievable, this is a film for you. It’s sweet, beautifully covers incredible locations, provides insight from many interesting points of view (Shintaro’s mother; rival; best friends… People’s caretakers…) and is just a pleasant reminder of how different the world outside of your own can be. Anyone going into this film in hopes of seeing something they can laugh at will be sorely disappointed as this movie immediately brings you in with a giant bear hug and only let’s go when it feels you’ve come to understand something you never thought you would, why they do it and why it’s not your call to say if it’s okay or not. Plus there’s a few minutes of a fairly unbelievable sex museum that’ll have you blushing and scratching your head in a way that only a Japanese sex museum could.
Here’s a film I’ve already begun telling my immediate friends to check out and I’d happily suggest you give it a shot even if it doesn’t sound like something you might be into. It’s well shot, well done, and has a point. It’s not sappy, not intentionally over the top with trying to manipulate your emotions, but simply tells the stories of some extraordinary people. I’d happily give DOGLEGS a canine out of ten (I couldn’t resist). Great film. Be sure to check it out when you can! Check out the film's website and Facebook pages for more info.
- Mike McCutchen