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  1. I have revived my plan to write a piece on From Milo to Misawa about Kosuke Takeuchi and the legacy of Gong magazine, which will be published on May 3, the tenth anniversary of his death. In the meantime, I have decided to publish the first part of the article, which essentially covers the Monthly era of the magazine while also revealing Takeuchi's legacy as an archivist. (I've picked a few alternate photos to make this version a little unique.) ---- EARLY YEARS Left: A caricature of the first match Kosuke Takeuchi saw, published in the second-ever issue of Monthly Puroresu. It was on a summer night in 1955, on a street television in the Taito ward, that Kosuke Takeuchi first saw pro wrestling. Retired yokozuna Azumafuji was set to debut for Japan Pro Wrestling at the Kuramae Kokugikan.. His match would see him brutalized to a disqualification victory against Jess Ortega, before Rikidozan ran into the ring and fought off the Mexican Giant with his chops. In a microcosm of how Rikidozan’s myth fed off of his supersession of native martial arts, Takeuchi didn’t care about Azumafuji after that, but Rikidozan’s image was seared into his mind. Takeuchi remained a loyal viewer through JPW’s first decline, trading the small street set for the TV inside a local yakisoba restaurant. As the promotion began its rebound, he would attend his first show. Mr. Atomic, a masked wrestler concocted by sales manager Hiroshi Iwata as a response to tokusatsu sensation Gekko Kamen, got two shots at Rikidozan’s International Heavyweight title in the summer of 1959. When Takeuchi learned that JPW’s show at the Denen Coliseum would admit children for just 50 yen, he bought a map and navigated to the Ota ward venue. By high school, Takeuchi regularly attended shows at the Riki Sports Palace in Shinjuku, and had a chance encounter with Professional Wrestling & Boxing editor-in-chief Yukio Koyonagi. Koyonagi got in touch a few months later. Before he had even completed school, Takeuchi was hired as a photographer in 1965. He quickly grew weary, as PWB was a stale product closer in its coverage to a newspaper than a magazine. He decided to apply for a position at Toyonobori’s new promotion, Tokyo Pro Wrestling, and came to the offices of parent company Baseball Magazine (BBM) to turn in his resignation. Koyonagi wanted to know why. When Takeuchi admitted that he was dissatisfied with their product, Koyonagi asked if he thought he could make it better, and when Kosuke answered in the affirmative, he promoted him on the spot. He would also become EIC of sister magazine Monthly Bodybuilding. However, neither man was long for their parent company. After BBM struggled with bankruptcy in 1967, Koyonagi jumped ship to help form Nihon Sports Publications. He then scouted Takeuchi, who quit his post to head a new magazine. EARLY YEARS OF GONG Gong debuted in March 1968. Like its competitor, Gong also covered genuine combat sports, although sister magazine Monthly Gong, debuting in 1969, exclusively featured wrestling. Takeuchi’s passion for graphic design would shine in Gong‘s vibrant covers, and the magazine would also be the first to feature color photography within its pages. I cannot speak articulately about early Gong‘s textual content with relation to its competitor. Dave Meltzer’s Takeuchi obituary sums it up as the Japanese equivalent of a Stanley Weston magazine, relatively embellished compared to the Norman Keitzer-esque coverage of PWB and Monthly Puroresu (to which the former rebranded in 1972). However, as Fumi Saito has pointed out, puroresu journalists were printing the proverbial legend from the start; Hiroshi Tazuhama’s pioneering coverage was responsible for such embellishments as Rikidozan’s bar fight with Harold Sakata (after which the two had supposedly bonded and Sakata had gotten Rikidozan booked on the Torii Oasis Shriners Club tour). Even the handful of late-70s Monthly Puroresu issues that I own, which I have debound and scanned for selected transcription, contain novelized “Turning Point” columns written from wrestlers’ perspectives, although this may reflect the influence of early Gong. Here is what I do know, mainly sourced from the recollections of Kagehiro Osano in a 2016 interview with Dropkick magazine. Tokyo Sports reporter Yasuo Sakurai made many contributions, although Osano doubts the veracity of his overseas match reports (“[I think] he was writing from the photographs”). The magazine connected fans to wrestlers with features ranging from the “My Privacy” column to reader-submitted questions. Gong also featured content by Shigeo Kado, the Tokyo Sports reporter-turned-JPW Commission secretary general. While his interests may have given his material the whiff of the party line, Kado also had an unusually strong “sense of exposé” for his time. Osano particularly recalls Shishi to Ryu (“The Lion and the Dragon”), a serialized feature about Baba and Inoki’s rivalry which would have been “disillusioning” for a child to read. Takeuchi himself claimed that his desire to produce content about Rikidōzan, which had been suppressed by the BBM higher-ups, would finally be satiated with Gong. If my aforementioned copies of Monthly Puroresu are anything to go by, such retrospective content became commonplace. When one speaks about Gong, though, there is one wrestler that is central to its legacy, and I am perfectly equipped to speak on this. AKUMA KAMEN In one of his final interviews, Takeuchi recalled that he wanted to find “a hero” for Gong: a vibrant wrestler through which he could capitalize on his industry’s shift towards color. He would find his man virtually immediately. Takeuchi first learned about Mil Máscaras from Sakurai. Máscaras had spent five years in the business and had already started his Mexican film career when he made his US debut that spring. He quickly became a sensation in Los Angeles. Tokyo Sports foreign correspondent Sakae Yoshimoto sent Gong photos of Máscaras, and a legend was born. (Meltzer claims the photography of Dan Westbrook was used, which may well be true, but Tsutomu Shimizu states that Yoshimoto shot the first Máscaras photographs in Gong.) Over the next three years, Máscaras would appear in Gong nearly 50 times. It wasn’t just that he was a vibrant subject for color photography, though. Even if Máscaras’ style was relatively grounded, it was downright exotic to a fanbase whose notion of a Mexican wrestler would have been Jess Ortega. Just as 1968 was the year that the IWE’s relationship with George de Relwyskow Jr. brought British wrestling to Japan, it was the year that Máscaras coverage gave glimpses into the rich world of lucha. In 1970, Takeuchi’s work to showcase Máscaras paid off. The IWE, emboldened by their new connection to the AWA, held a poll to scout interest in wrestlers who had not yet worked in Japan. Máscaras came in second place, with less than fifty votes between him and winner Spiros Arion. After months of sabotage and counteroffers, Máscaras and Arion would work for JPW in March 1971, where Mil received a disproportionate amount of attention, to Arion’s resentment. During his time in Japan, he visited Gong‘s offices. Tsutomu Shimizu had been captivated by Máscaras since his first Gong appearance. The 14-year-old Tokyo native would not be able to see Mil’s Japanese debut on February 19, in which he defeated Kantaro Hoshino in Korakuen Hall. One week later, though, JPW ran Korakuen again, and Shimizu saw Mil go over the Great Kojika in the semi-main. Máscaras would work two more tours for Japan Pro Wrestling until their closure in 1973. That year, as Shimizu formed the fan club Akuma Kamen (Devil’s Mask), Takeuchi persistently requested that Giant Baba book Máscaras for All Japan Pro Wrestling. Baba’s general antipathy towards lucha talent would hardly thaw overnight, but Máscaras debuted for AJPW in the 1973 Giant Series. On October 9, the same night that Tomomi Tsuruta would become a star, Máscaras began his first great rivalry in Japan against another masked wrestler with history in Los Angeles: the Destroyer. Máscaras’ Japanese popularity waned in the mid-1970s, but Shimizu continued to run his club as he enrolled at Wako University in 1975, eventually renaming it El Amigo. Even this early, Takeuchi would support him by giving him interview opportunities. Shimizu stands second from left as El Amigo is featured on the show Good Morning in July 1978. On his right is future Universal Lucha Libre announcer Tera Hanbay. 1977 would begin Máscaras’ golden age in Japan. AJPW television director Susumu Umegaki was inspired to use Jigsaw’s “Sky High” as Máscaras’ entrance music. This wasn’t the first time that puroresu had used entrance music; the IWE’s television director had done so for Billy Graham in 1974, and Umegaki himself had experimented with music for Jumbo Tsuruta as far back as 1975. However, “Sky High” was where the trend took off, with a tie-in single racing up the charts; before the year had ended, AJPW had enough entrance music to release a compilation album, The Great Fighting. The success of Umegaki’s experiment culminated on August 20, 1977. In the Denen Coliseum, where Takeuchi had seen Mr. Atomic many years before, Gong‘s “hero” challenged Tsuruta for his NWA United National title. Kosuke did his part by deploying the members of clubs such as Shimizu’s as cheer squads. When Máscaras returned in 1978, alongside his younger brother Dos Caras, Takeuchi began work as a guest commentator for his matches. However, Takeuchi was not a partisan supporter of All Japan, as he also had an excellent relationship with NJPW sales manager and strategist Hisashi Shinma. Just a month before his first appearance at the All Japan commentary booth, Takeuchi had provided his services for their chief competitor. NJPW had convinced the IWE’s Ryuma Go to leave and work for them as a freelancer, as Shinma wanted to capitalize on Tatsumi Fujinami’s popularity by creating a junior heavyweight version of the Inoki vs. Strong Kobayashi matches of 1974. The likes of El Amigo, Ashura Hara club Wild Child, and New Japan fan club The Flame Fighters, headed by Kagehiro Osano, were assigned to cheer each man. TAKEUCHI TAPES “He was smart, rich, and had all the latest electronics. He had a new VCR and a new stereo.” Kagehiro Osano A large part of Takeuchi’s appeal to young superfans is now possibly his greatest legacy, hidden in plain sight, as puroresu’s earliest archivist. An early adopter of the VCR, Takeuchi extensively taped the television programs of his day. Over the decades, a substantial amount of this footage would circulate into trader circles. As official efforts to recirculate archival footage are inevitably compromised by their nature as low-effort filler for satellite stations, or the occasional DVD set, the Takeuchi Tapes have become our only sources for many significant matches, from Tokyo Sports’ 1978 Match of the Year (Jumbo Tsuruta vs. Harley Race) to numerous title defenses. Consider how, despite the fact that Nippon Television aired JPW material for over fifteen years, almost all of that which circulates today is descended from eighteen hours of material collected in 1972. Consider that the full year of AJPW which aired prior to Tsuruta’s debut has been mercilessly slashed, quite likely forever, to the contents of two episodes from December 1972 and April 1973. Consider that only three matches from Antonio Inoki and Seiji Sakaguchi’s original run as NJPW’s top tag team circulate today (and that one of those, the August 1973 match in LA against Pat Patterson and Johnny Powers, isn’t available outside of an episode of Sky-A Classics). Consider how much of the IWE’s TBS run only survives in 8mm fragments. For as unremarkable and even tedious to modern eyes as the Takeuchi Tapes may reveal 70s puroresu to have often been, a survey of all we lost before should suffice to appreciate them. Furthermore, a claim that Takeuchi possessed footage of the untelevised 1985 Real World Tag League match between the teams of Riki Choshu & Yoshiaki Yatsu and Giant Baba & Dory Funk Jr. indicates that Kosuke’s archive extended to audience recordings and implies that he may have been a hub for the exchange of such material. To explain why I believe this, I need to move along. As the decade neared its end, Takeuchi organized a new fan club: the Maniax. In the beginning, there were four official members: Shimizu, Kiyonori Shishikura, Jimmy Suzuki, and Yusuke “Wally” Yamaguchi. Suzuki has referred to the Maniax as a “reserve force” for Gong, as they contributed to the magazine long before any were officially hired. With the exception of Beantank (Kotetsu Yamamoto) founder Masahiko Takasugi, who would become an IWE trainee, none of the superfans from this generation would enter the ring themselves, but several entered journalism. The Maniax also made and screened 8mm film recordings, which Shimizu has admitted they could never get away with now. (At right are invitations to the 1978 and 1979 screenings, which were given to Tera Hanbay.) It’s a damn good thing they did, though, as Takeuchi would supply some of this footage to an IWE box set in the mid-2000s, when television tapes could not be found or did not exist. Whether or not any of the people involved would admit it, I think it’s plausible that Takeuchi may have had some role in the proliferation of early fancams. TAKEUCHI ENDS THE PULLOUT WAR In December 1980, Takeuchi left Nihon Sports Publications and his editor-in-chief position to become an editorial advisor to Gong instead. He would be replaced by Shotaro Funaki, who had overseen its combat sports coverage. These two had long been the only contracted employees of Gong‘s editorial department, but in this decade that would change. As the first generation of Maniax embarked on overseas training, not unlike the wrestlers they covered, the last great story of the Monthly Gong era unfolded. 1981 was the year of the “pullout war”. NJPW had fired the first shot, swiping Abdullah the Butcher, Dick Murdoch, and Tiger Toguchi (who would revert to his Korean name of Kim Duk) to coincide with the formation of the International Wrestling Grand Prix. AJPW had retaliated by taking Tiger Jeet Singh and Umanosuke Ueda, and Baba managed to secure a top-secret meeting with Stan Hansen, who had been NJPW’s top gaikokujin since the previous year. Hansen would continue to work with NJPW for the rest of 1981 while delaying his decision to renew his long-term deal, to Shinma’s exasperation. As was revealed in one of puroresu’s all-time great angles on December 13—in which Hansen accompanied Bruiser Brody and Jimmy Snuka to the RWTL final against the Funks, tipping the scales their way in a pivotal bit of interference—Hansen had indeed switched sides. What made the cover of Gong that you see on the right so controversial? It would have to be produced before the angle actually happened. At some point, Terry Funk had confided in Yamaguchi that Hansen was coming. This information, if it were true, would have to remain in Takeuchi’s proverbial chamber until the last possible moment. If he tipped his hand, NJPW would surely move heaven and earth to keep one of their biggest stars, and his magazine’s relationship with Baba may have been tarnished. So, he waited, and waited, and he would be rewarded with the photograph you see. It was shot in New Orleans by overseas reporter Kiyoshi Ibaraki, and it led Takeuchi to surmise that AJPW was planning a Brody-Hansen team. Still, though, it wasn’t time, so Takeuchi hid the film in a drawer. Finally, on December 10, Takeuchi decided it was time. He asked both Brody and Hansen for comment. Brody said that he “couldn’t give any details yet”, but that he believed they would be in the same promotion in the next year, while Hansen denied it, dismissing it as “just what Frank wanted”. Two days later, though, Hansen would make a shocking appearance at AJPW’s Yokosuka show, where he asked to talk with Frank and was escorted backstage by Joe Higuchi. Gong hit the shelves on the 17th. The timing was perfect: *too* perfect, some believed. Monthly Puroresu published an interview with Seiji Sakaguchi in their February 1982 issue, which came out on January 14. Sakaguchi remarked that “one part of the media had secretly maneuvered about Hansen’s withdrawal”, as it appeared that Takeuchi had been in on the transfer, having managed to take a photo of the two together. He immediately met with Sakaguchi and explained that he had held onto the photo for months, but Gong‘s competitor maintained that they must have been in on it. In order to clear his name, Takeuchi had to do something big. He offered to mediate a secret summit meeting between Baba, Inoki and Shinma, and they took him up on it. Baba and Inoki each had a Tokyo hotel in which they held press conferences and clandestine meetings. Baba’s was the Akasaka Prince Hotel, while Inoki’s was the Keio Plaza Hotel. This time, though, they booked a room at the Imperial Hotel. The three men hashed out an informal agreement to end the pullout war, and naturally, Gong got the exclusive scoop. It may be the greatest vindication of Takeuchi’s cooperative approach as a wrestling journalist. Alas, puroresu journalism would move towards a much different path. The 1982 summit meeting.
  2. KinchStalker

    2006 Kosuke Takeuchi interview

    This interview is from the now inactive official Japanese site for the film Rikidōzan, a 2004 Korean-Japanese co-production. I am guessing that it was conducted in early 2006. Ever since completing my Broken Crown series in December, I had been preparing a longform article about Takeuchi and the history and impact of Gong magazine. I have decided to shelve that piece, which I had planned to publish on the tenth anniversary of Takeuchi's death in May, because I am not confident that I could do the subject justice without direct interviews with ex-Gong journalists. I simply do not have the clout, the money, or the fluency to make that happen. I may cannibalize what I had written for content here, as I want my work in this forum to encompass puro journalism history. This interview was among the resources I had used. Kosuke Takeuchi was the founder of Monthly Gong, the predecessor to Weekly Gong, and a well-known commentator for All Japan Pro Wrestling Live. He is also one of the most knowledgeable people in Japan about Rikidōzan. His encounter with Rikidōzan eventually led him to build a career as a professional wrestling reporter which has spanned more than 40 years. We asked Mr. Takeuchi to talk about his memories of Rikidōzan, his own relationship with professional wrestling, and the appeal of the movie "Rikidōzan" as seen through the eyes of a professional wrestler. --First of all, please tell us about your first encounter with Rikidōzan. The first time I saw Rikidōzan was on a street TV broadcast, and it was the first match when Ortega came to Japan in 1955. It was the debut match of the yokozuna Azumafuji, who had switched from sumo to pro wrestling. However, the yokozuna could not compete at all, and his performance was poor. Then Rikidōzan came out and challenged the huge Ortega with a karate chop, which had a tremendous impact. I thought, "Wow, Rikidōzan is strong!” After that, I didn't care about Azumafuji anymore; it was just the image of Rikidōzan that had been burned into my mind. The first time I actually saw a match was in 1959. It was a match between Rikidōzan and a masked wrestler named Mr. Atomic. I had happened to see a flyer that said elementary and junior high school students could see the match for 50 yen, so I looked up a map and went to the Denen Coliseum.1 --Was he very popular among elementary and junior high school students in those days? In our days, sumo wrestlers Tochinishiki and Wakanohana were in their prime, and they were popular at school. But the moment pro wrestling came in, the children's tastes changed. They used to wrestle in a circle in the schoolyard, but now they are all playing wrestling. So, every Friday, we would go to the street TV to watch the matches. To tell you the truth, though, the screen was too small to see! So I would go to a nearby yakisoba shop that had a TV set, buy a ticket for noodles in the evening, and go watch the match when it started at 8pm. Eventually, though, I was the only one eating and watching the TV at the restaurant. When it was a big tournament, everyone was interested, but when it became a regular TV program, the venue was small, no big players came, and it was not popular.2 I felt that I was a little behind the times, but I still went to see the matches. --What kind of impression did you have of Rikidōzan? He did wrestling that was easy to understand, even for children. There was a foreign wrestler who was just bad, and at first he was beaten thoroughly. Then, at the last moment, he would explode with anger and defeat them with a karate chop. It's just like Gekko Kamen and other heroes. The way the monsters (laughs) come one after another is just like Rikidōzan’s monster slaying. That's why it's no wonder it's so popular with children. However, now that I think about it more calmly, I realize that Rikidōzan was very good at some things. At some point, the TV broadcast started to end when he was in a pinch. The match would not end completely. This caused me a lot of frustration, and even as a child, I felt the need to buy a newspaper to find out the results. It was right around the time when evening sports papers came out, and the front and third pages always had articles about wrestling. At that time, the regular morning sports paper cost 10 yen, but the evening sports paper cost 5 yen, so you could read a lot of articles on wrestling for half the price. Still, for a child, even 5 yen was a waste. That's why I sometimes picked up the evening paper the next morning. --What is Rikidōzan’s most famous fight for you? In my memory, the only one I can remember seeing is the match with Destroyer. It was 1963, the year of Rikidōzan’s death. By that time, I had become more discerning about wrestling, but even so, Destroyer was nothing short of amazing. The match he had with Destroyer in May of that year was the best! I don't think there is a better match than that. At that time, all masked wrestlers had black masks, but Destroyer was the only one with a white mask. This made him look very creepy. Also, the Destroyer had taken the belt from Fred Blassie in the U.S. the year before, so I thought he was stronger than Blassie. He was stronger than Blassie, and he used a technique I've never seen before, called the figure four hold. There were so many mysterious elements that I was excited even before I arrived. On the day of the match, we were seated in the middle of the first floor. This was the first time we saw the "figure four" technique in action. It's not a rare technique now, but at that time, both [the Destroyer and Rikidōzan’s] legs went numb when he applied the technique, and the referee made them take off their ring shoes because we couldn't break free on our own. When you think about it, though, there was no need for that! It's not like taking off the ring shoes was going to solve the problem. But at the time, I thought that was a great idea (laughs). --I wouldn't have thought of it now (laughs). I'd like to ask you a little bit about yourself, Mr. Takeuchi. After working as the editor-in-chief of Pro Wrestling & Boxing, you were involved in the launch of Monthly Gong. There was a facility called the Riki Sports Palace that Rikidōzan had built in Shibuya, and every Friday they would hold a TV match there. It was rather inexpensive - I think it was 300 yen at the time - so I went there as long as I could afford it. One day, I happened to buy a copy of Pro Wrestling & Boxing at a store and was reading it on a bench when someone asked me if the magazine was interesting. I said something about it being interesting or boring, and [Yukio Koyonagi] pulled out his business card and said, "Actually, I'm the editor-in-chief." (laughs). We parted ways at that time, but a few months later, he contacted me and said, "We have a vacancy, are you interested in coming?" (laughs) People around me said, "You don't have any experience, so all you can do is fetch tea," but I decided to go because I liked the job. That was my start. I started working in the middle of high school, so I was 18 years old. After working there for about a year, I decided I wanted to make my own magazine (laughs). I know it sounds cheeky, but I was getting frustrated with the way things were going. Just around that time, Tokyo Pro Wrestling had launched, so I decided to quit making magazines and apply for a job there, as they said they were hiring because they didn't have anyone yet (laughs). So I thought I had made my decision and turned in my resignation to the company, but then [Koyonagi] asked me what I was unhappy about. I told him, "The way the magazine is made now is not very interesting." He asked me if I could make it better, to which I replied, "I'd like to make it better.” He answered, "Then I'll make you editor-in-chief." Oh, that's a different story then (laughs), so I was made editor-in-chief at the tender age of 19. --That's an amazing story (laughs). (laughs) But I was still young and inexperienced in many ways. Then, when I was thinking about what to do next, Baseball Magazine, the company that published Pro Wrestling & Boxing, filed for bankruptcy. And the top people at the time [including Koyonagi] went independent and started Nihon Sports Publishing Co. When they decided to create a new magazine, they decided that wrestling was the one magazine that had no competition, so they asked me to join them again. That's how I ended up working on the first issue of Monthly Gong. --What did you find unsatisfactory about the way the magazine was produced? I was not able to cover the topic of Rikidōzan. Rikidōzan was the reason why I fell in love with professional wrestling. That's why I wanted to write about Rikidōzan, but he was already dead and there was nothing new to talk about, so they wouldn't cover him, and I was really frustrated. So as soon as I started Gong, I started doing a lot of special features on Rikidōzan (laughs). At that time, it had been about four or five years since Rikidōzan’s death, and the response was still good. There was a demand for it. At that time, I decided to collect all kinds of Rikidōzan photos and materials, and this is what I did most enthusiastically. Because Gong was first published in 1968, there was no material on Rikidōzan. In the end, I had to gather materials from existing newspapers and magazines, but I wanted to have a complete history of Rikidōzan, so I collected everything I could. Whenever I met someone related to Rikidōzan, if I found a good photo, I would ask them to give me one. Thanks to this, I think I accomplished my goal fairly well. I'm proud to say that I have the most photos in Japan. --In fact, now that you have come into contact with Rikidōzan through your work, you have come to understand a side of him that you did not know when you were a child. In the end, it's not so much about Rikidōzan, but about Mitsuhiro Momota, isn't it? He was not the hero we knew. He was a human being, with a very strong ego. But even after knowing that, I can forgive Rikidōzan. I feel that is more like him than the well-behaved Rikidōzan, and I was not disappointed. The greatness and charm of his fights far outweighs that. It is true that Giant Baba, Antonio Inoki, and others have all gone on to create their own eras, but it is impossible to surpass Rikidōzan. First of all, Rikidōzan’s background was too different from theirs, and I don't know how such an ideal wrestler could have existed in that era in terms of body shape and mood. I also have the impression that he suddenly disappeared from the scene as a superstar. And since he met such a tragic end, he's more of a legend than a superstar. --This is a little off the topic of Rikidōzan, but speaking of Gong, you covered Mil Mascaras quite a bit, didn't you? I heard that you yourself are quite a fan. Yes! (laughs). At that time, I wanted a hero for the magazine. For example, there was a movie magazine called Roadshow that sold like hotcakes after Burning Dragon became a hit, which featured Bruce Lee. Magazines were just starting to shift from black and white to color, and I was looking for a new hero to match this trend. It wasn't Giant Baba, Antonio Inoki, or even Rikidōzan anymore. It was then that I noticed that there was a guy in Los Angeles who changed his mask every game. Since there is usually only one type of mask, the fact that he changed his mask every match brought to mind the image of a seven-colored mask or a man with seven faces. Now I had to gather materials for Mascaras (laughs). There were almost no such materials in Japan, so I went around to all the news agencies, looked at all the negatives, and bought up all the pictures that had Mascaras in them. I also asked the local photographers to send me just the Mascaras photos for the time being. I felt like I had to go all the way (laughs). In the end, thanks to my three years of following Mascaras, when he first came to Japan, there was already a boom. --You also did commentary for All Japan Pro Wrestling and other matches, didn't you? That's because, when Mascaras came to Japan, the producer of the show asked me to be the commentator for Mascaras. There were already two professional commentators, so I was sent to Mascaras' match.3 In that sense, I can say that I've benefited from everything I've done up to that point (laughs). By the way, speaking of Mascaras, there was that theme song, "Sky High" by Jigsaw, wasn't there? The director [Susumu Umegaki] happened to select it as the background music for the trailer of the TV show: "Mascaras will be appearing next week." It certainly fit the image of the show, and the response was great, so they decided to play it at the venue when he came. This was a time when even the WWF (now WWE) did not have theme songs. So they played it once during Mascaras' entrance, and it exploded (laughs). That started the "Sky High" boom.4 --That's an anecdote that gives us a glimpse behind the scenes of history (laughs). Back to the topic at hand, what are your impressions of the movie Rikidōzan? Before seeing the movie, I didn't have high expectations, to tell you the truth. I thought it would be impossible for a Korean star to play Rikidōzan, and I didn't think the actors could play Rikidōzan. I also thought that it would be just a superhero story, or that it would end up being a pretty story. However, when I actually saw the movie, I felt that it was so different from what I had expected. I thought it was amazing that they were able to capture the essence of Rikidōzan so well. First of all, the actors are all wonderful. They were all in the right place at the right time. Especially Seol Gyeong-gu, who played Rikidōzan, I felt that he was the only one who could do it. He had to perform all the movements in the ring, and from our point of view, there was no unnaturalness in the matches. I can only say that it was amazing that they were able to clear this most difficult part. Also, there was no waste in the selection of episodes, and even though Rikidōzan was the subject of the film, the good times and good scenes were covered properly. The historical research was also very well done. It made me wonder what kind of knowledgeable person wrote the screenplay. It is true that there are some aspects of the story that people who like Rikidōzan may not accept, and I think there are pros and cons. But on the other hand, I want people to know that this was also Rikidōzan. I want people to see this film because it's a film for this day and age. I want people to feel the character of the hero Rikidōzan, or rather, his “hungry” spirit, which the people of today do not have. --Thank you very much. By the way, I heard that you are currently preparing a book about Rikidōzan. I'm working on a book about Rikidōzan and the alleged fight against Masahiko Kimura. The main title of the book will be "Which one was betrayed?” After all, the most scandalous and mysterious of all Rikidōzan’s matches is the Rikidōzan-Kimura match, which took place at the Kuramae Kokugikan on December 22, 1954. Rikidōzan won the match, but even now, 51 years later, there are still many things we don't know. It was a match that all the reporters and writers who had covered pro wrestling were interested in, but could not come to a conclusion about. That's why I really wanted to try my hand at it and come to my own conclusions about what this match was all about, what happened in the end, and who betrayed who. I started researching about three years ago, and I'm about halfway through writing it now. I have all the materials, so I'm taking my time and not rushing.5 --I am looking forward to its completion. Thank you very much for your time today. FOOTNOTES 1. Mr. Atomic was a gimmick created for Clyde Steeves by sales manager Hiroshi Iwata. The previous year, Gekko Kamen had started the tokusatsu television program, and Iwata wanted to create a villain who tapped into that niche. 2. Takeuchi is referring to Puroresu Fight Man Hour, the JWA’s first attempt at a weekly television program. This program was taped at the Japan Pro Wrestling Center/Rikidōzan Dojo, rarely featured foreign talent, and often saw Rikidōzan work as a commentator or referee instead of wrestle. It would be terminated in March 1958, as Rikidōzan fled the country to evade investigation into his use of black market money to hire American wrestlers. 3. Takeuchi was made a special commentator for Mascaras starting in 1978. 4. So intertwined was Mascaras with Takeuchi that “Sky High” would be played at his funeral. 5. Takeuchi would never finish the book. In the fall of 2006, he suffered a massive stroke during his morning commute which would leave him bedridden and unable to speak until his 2012 death. Toshinari Masuda would publish the 700-page bestseller Why Didn’t Masahiko Kimura Kill Rikidōzan? in 2011, but that book was a biography of Kimura.
  3. (2019 FOUR PILLARS BIO: CHAPTERS 25-31, PART TWO (THE FALL OF TARZAN YAMAMOTO) A 1995 episode of TV Tokyo docuseries Navigator profiles Tarzan Yamamoto. However mixed the response had been to Takashi “Tarzan” Yamamoto’s promo segment with Shinya Hashimoto at the end of the Bridge of Dreams show, his public profile had not diminished. His appearances ranged from a weekly column of horse-racing predictions to his weekly radio show, and even a variety show appearance. While the character itself was not based on Yamamoto, the fact that the protagonist of Fuji TV drama Itsuka Mata Aeru (played by Masaharu Fukuyama) was a magazine editor reflected Tarzan’s influence in popular culture…especially since Fuji’s production staff had visited Weekly Pro’s office for research. On February 9, 1996, Weekly Pro received a notice from WAR. Signed by director Masatomo Takei, the letter stated that it would freeze coverage from the publication. It read that the boycott was not so much against the publication as it was against its EIC, Yamamoto. “There are so many reasons for our decision that it is difficult to specify, but I can say that we decided to do this in order to create a stir in the development of WAR and the wrestling world.” WAR had initially inherited SWS’s Weekly Pro ban, but had lifted it in January 1993. The next two years saw friendly relations between promotion and publication, with Tarzan even getting an interview with Tenryu. However, the relationship had deteriorated as talks concerning WAR’s participation in the Bridge of Dreams show broke down, something which I have already covered. Until this point, though, the reporter on the WAR beat continued to produce match reports and attend press conferences without issue. On March 16, another letter came in. NJPW had followed WAR’s lead. — As Ichinose recalls, this had been rumored for a week. A few days earlier, a fan wrote in asking if Weekly Pro was going to be banned. As this fan had learned, New Japan had sent contracts to local promoters to secure their loyalty. In these contracts, they stated they would soon boycott the publication, and asked the promoters to keep in line with them even if they had personal connections to Yamamoto and the staff. Furthermore, an unnamed member of NJPW’s front office had called the office in December to let them know that NJPW, UWFi, and WAR were planning to join forces in a three-pronged boycott. While the letter bore NJPW president Seiji Sakaguchi’s name, Yamamoto was convinced that its true author was Riki Choshu, who is quoted as having once publicly stated that “Yamamoto should not be in this world.” Tarzan would strike back in a series of issues. In one, he claimed that the conflict between him and Choshu stemmed from Choshu’s disdain for mixed martial arts. Yamamoto expressed disappointment that Choshu had banned NJPW talent from pursuing the sport on the side, as it flew against the Inokian ideals of yore. (Note that, if comments Ichinose made a little earlier in the book are to be believed, Yamamoto had also played a role in building up the mystique of the UWFi. If so, he was not only complicit in shoot-style’s successful working of the Japanese fanbase, but like his editorial predecessor Hideo Sugiyama with the original UWF, he was a knowing component of it.) Choshu had fiercely opposed Weekly Pro’s discussion of K-1 in a September issue, but now, the magazine had no choice but to also cover MMA. On the April 9 issue’s cover, Tarzan asked Inoki what he thought of NJPW’s refusal to grant interviews, while the issue itself contained an interview with K-1’s Kazuyoshi Ishii. It was the April 16 issue, though, where Tarzan really bared his fangs. In an editorial, he wrote that for all the supposed depth of New Japan’s roster, it had declined into character-based wrestling. The likes of Chono and Tenzan worked “obvious” matches, and even Choshu’s work had declined. Furthermore, younger talent such as Satoshi Kojima had done nothing *but* character wrestling. The thrust of Yamamoto’s critique was that, once a character had been established, a wrestler did not have to concern himself with the content of his matches. This was the difference between New Japan and All Japan. While AJPW had to win provincial audiences over with substantial matches, NJPW was content to provide nothing more than character-based “local entertainment”. The headline of this piece read that New Japan was thus “cutting corners” in their provincial shows. As Weekly Pro’s NJPW reporter, Masayuki Sato, has claimed, the roster was not united behind Choshu’s opposition to Yamamoto at first…even if Chono had grilled Sato for working for “Yamamoto Weekly” in March. But Tarzan’s response to the letter had cost him any sympathizers he may have had in that locker room. Ichinose believes that his magazine’s response might not have been so caustic had deputy editor Kiyonori Shishikura, who I have previously cited as a tempering influence on the publication, not been hospitalized at the time. Anyway, Ichinose was actually confident that Weekly Pro would triumph. While they had been on a slight downward trend, they were still selling over 200,000 issues a week. Neither the AJPW/JPW boycott of 1986 nor the SWS ban had sunk the magazine, so they thought they could weather the storm. NJPW was a little worried too. World Pro Wrestling commentator Katsuhiko Kanazawa, who was hired through Weekly Gong, is quoted recalling that Katsuji Nagashima, NJPW director and right-hand man to Choshu, had asked him to keep him posted on Weekly Pro’s circulation figures. Kanazawa recalls that Gong were worrying about their own sales at the time, and while EIC Kagehiro Osano resolved to cover New Japan fairly without special treatment from Nagashima, Kanazawa was inspired to produce a studio special with Keiji Mutoh and Kensuke Sasaki, being interviewed in character as the Great Muta and Power Warrior. That issue sold very well, and in the coming months, Gong would finally surge ahead of Weekly Pro. Meanwhile, Koji Kitao’s Takeki Dojo banned Weekly Pro in early April. Finally, UWFi gave a notice of its own in late April, having been savvy enough to hold off on banning them just long enough for Weekly Pro to run their ads for the April 29 Tokyo Dome show. Above: the author of this very book oversaw the bold, text-based special issue covering NJPW Battle Formation on April 29, 1996. For the only time in his career, Ichinose would be in charge of a full issue of Weekly Pro: the special issue covering that very event. Having no photographic access to the show, Ichinose conceived a bold, fully text-based issue. His fellow reporters and freelance affiliates all signed on, with each covering one match on the card. The Great Muta/Power Warrior match even saw writers Ken Suzuki and Kazuhiro Kojima write pieces from the perspectives of each character. Yamamoto did not attend the show, but wrote about his own thoughts as he sat outside the Tokyo Dome that night. Shishikura had not fully recovered, but he came through to proofread the issue. As Ichinose puts it, the Battle Formation special issue was the last hurrah of the Yamamoto era. It sold over 50,000 copies, which was considered a success to some extent. But it hardly damaged New Japan. While Weekly Pro managed to keep their sales about 100,000, the blow was severe. Yamamoto admitted defeat, as the June 11 issue featured an apology for the April 16 editorial on its front page. With the July 23 issue, Tarzan resigned. After this, Yamamoto phased out of his role as a creative consultant for Baba, although their relations were still good. The bans were all lifted, and New Japan was quick enough to allow them access in time to cover the G1 Climax. Weekly Pro’s sales would recover enough to take their place above Gong, but they would never sell over 200,000 copies of an issue again. — As this is the last time Yamamoto figures into this story, I think he deserves a few words. Ichinose appears to have remained friendly with him over the years, and clearly maintains a respect for his maverick nature. But not everything Ichinose reveals is flattering. The magazine had hired female writers before, but the Yamamoto era featured an all-male staff. Women were not even hired for freelance work, with many applications rejected because Tarzan thought that “it would upset the magnetic field”. (I would make a Susan Anway-era Magnetic Fields joke had she not recently passed.) Ichinose recalls that, for a period, he dated a woman who he had met on the 1991 Misawa cruise, but took great care not to reveal this or “his flirtatious side” in general to his boss. The boys club era of Weekly Pro had certainly overstayed its welcome by 1996, and this information seems to contextualize an incident Ichinose mentioned earlier in the book, in which he caught heat for encouraging Cuty Suzuki and Mayumi Ozaki to remove their bras and cup their breasts in their hands for a Saipan photoshoot in 1993. Ichinose recalls that the women, who had already done gravure work at this point, raised no objection to his request. But it still feels like a call better made by a female photographer, and one totally understands why JWP may have reacted as they did, especially if they have context on Weekly Pro’s all-male makeup. Yamamoto even used his power once to take a job opportunity from Ichinose. Ichinose was hired to do commentary work for WOWOW’s JWP program, but when he wrote in Weekly Pro that these commitments would not allow him to personally cover every event in the 1993 RWTL, Tarzan forced him to quit. Ichinose’s dad had bought a WOWOW subscription just to hear his son, and it was so quickly snuffed out. But whatever one thinks of him, Tarzan himself was one of Heisei puroresu’s most interesting characters. For better or worse, he should be better known among Western fans.
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