Ossan No Kefei (Dynamite Wolf): Written by Natsu Hashimoto, directed by Kohei Taniguchi. Starring: Yota Kawase, Yusuke Matsuda, Haruto Kobayashi, Susumu Noda, Shiruya Jinbo. Running Time: 71 minutes.
Dynamite Wolf follows the time-honored formula for a coming-of-age story revolving around a sport; establish the lonely, oddball nature of the main character and his small coterie of friends, have them discover through happenstance an entire sports universe previously unknown to them, arrange them to meet an older mentor-figure who himself is struggling for professional redemption, and watch their friendship bloom despite being deeply misunderstood by society. Throw in a classmate bully who could (maybe) have a change of heart by the end, frustrated background parents, and a subplot involving authority figures at the school, and you have all the elements you need for a heartwarming tale of a boy finding his own little niche in the world.
Hiroto and his friends are all struggling over a simple questionnaire from the school asking all students to name their talent and to demonstrate it to the class. Bereft of an answer, they spent their free time skipping stones into the river, until they notice a strange man on the other side who always spends his afternoons wrestling with a blow-up doll. Intrigued, Hiroto follows hum and soon discovers a local underground wrestling scene, where the leading champion is one Dynamite Wolf, a mysterious figure whose real identity is unknown. Hiroto becomes convinced that this lonely man by the river is THE Dynamite Wolf, and persuades him to teach him and his friends the art of professional wrestling, deciding that, at last, he’s found his talent.
There are a few twists the story takes from there, but while they are fairly predictable I won’t disrespect the film by spoiling them here. This is a movie that follows its formula to a T, but does it so well that it really doesn’t matter in the end; this is a well-made, well-acted, fun, funny little film that hits all the notes it needs to, and doesn’t break itself trying to do more. Hiroto and his pals have great chemistry together, and I was grateful the story never tried to toss an extra loop into the ring where they turn on each other over some silly misunderstanding; they know they can count on each other, even when they get on each other’s nerves.
Like with any solid movie, this film takes a world alien to my own experience (in this case, professional masked wrestling) and allows me to catch a glimpse of how someone can get so into it. The filmmakers sought to shoot everything from the perspective of a child, and the best moments of the film succeed wildly in this regard, especially the first time Hiroto ever walks into a ring and sees a professional match for the first time. It doesn’t reach spectacular visual storytelling heights, but it doesn’t need to. It’s a small film that knows what it wants to do, goes out, and does it. And that’s more than enough.