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paul sosnowski

[2020-03-29-NOAH-20th Anniversary] Go Shiozaki vs Kazuyuki Fujita

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Whether you love it or hate it, this certainly deserves props for being completely unique. A 30-minute staredown sounds awful on paper, but they somehow made it work here (even if it did need a little trimming), telling a story of mental toughness with Shiozaki's focus never wavering, and Fujita's rock-solid determination slowly slipping away to restlessness and eventually being the first one to make a move. It helps that everything after that is great on its own, with them telling a story of Fujita being physically stronger and more technically proficient than Shiozaki, but not having the endurance to get the job done. They also made good use of the setting by brawling all over the empty Korakuen Hall. Unlike anything I've ever seen.

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For so long NOAH just seemed to turn into a shadow of the shadow of its former self. For an actually thought provoking match which you could (and should) absolutely argue pushes pro wrestling as a medium to happen there is surprising in a good way, and interestingly enough, they didn't need technological props to get post-modern. A long staredown was enough.

It's really a testament to who and what Fujita is as a worker, because he absolutely carried this match. From his mannerisms, his shit talking, the straight up wacky stuff he did to the brutality (the pimp hand is still strong) you expect from him in a world title match. Fujita is such a personality that it doesn't seem *that* silly to watch him try and push Go Shiozaki off the balcony or for him to call an elevator while beating Go up. I barely watch fake fighting these days and seeing rope pushing and shoulder blocks probably does more to remind me of the absurdity of what I'm watching. It speaks to the strength of Fujita's character that he managed to do that because I can't imagine, say, watching Minoru Suzuki brawl around the stands and doing the aforementioned without turning the video off and rewatching the finish of the Semmy Schilt fight instead.

Go was ok. He wasn't tasked with much. Just had to get his ass kicked and portray a stereotypical choplariat wrestler. I wish he was skilled enough in groundfighting so that Fujita didn't have to put himself into closed guard because Go had no idea what to do. Outside of that, he didn't get in the way of Fujita's performance much, and I vastly prefer the route they took in incorporating matwork where Fujita would just get on top and put on Wrestling/Judo Pins than say if they had compromised it so Go could get some stuff in.

I'm not putting a numerical value on it. It was definitely unique, memorable, and, quite frankly-great.

 

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In 2013, a friend of mine took me to see the movie Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan by local director Lav Diaz. More than the actual content and plot of the film itself, I remember the actual viewing experience most of all. My friend and I watched it at the cinema and I had been warned ahead of time that the runtime went beyond the four hour mark.

One of Lav Diaz’s stylistic trademarks as a director is the use of long, extended shots that hold on moments in the film for minutes at a time whether or not actual plot is transpiring on screen. This explains the long runtime of his films but also creates a distinctly challenging experience for any viewer. For some, boredom will inevitably arise. But in the moment, while trying to make sense of it, such scenes can evoke a sense of focus and concentration on the movie that heightens the experience of viewing it. The act of watching a movie suddenly shifts from the passive to the active as stillness draws the eye in much more than frantic movement.

This is what came to mind when I watched the GHC Heavyweight Title match between Go Shiozaki and Kazuyuki Fujita.

The most notable aspect of this match is definitely the extended staredown that takes up the first half of this near hour long match. Shiozaki and Fujita use up 35 full minutes keeping their distance in the ring simply staring each other down. Shiozaki does so from the center of the ring while Fujita stands his ground in the corner, shifting only once to move to another side of the ring. The 35 minutes plays out in near silence as the show is being run in front of an empty Kouraken Hall. The only sounds come from the clicks of cameras and the light nudging to action from wrestlers at ringside as well as the referee.

In that 35 minutes, I found myself getting sucked in by the nothingness on display. There’s a hypnotic quality to seeing so little in a wrestling ring. Pure minimalism somehow mixed with the excess and grandeur of pro wrestling. Doing nothing in the most spectacular way possible. It was such a bold and compelling choice that I found myself far more involved in this half hour stillness than most ten minute opening segments in comparable matches elsewhere. In fact after a while, I couldn’t help but feel like the segment took on a satirical tone in its absurdity. It takes the often maligned uneventful first acts of many an epic title match and extending that to its unnatural and overblown extreme–making it fresh again in the process.

Of course, this segment could not possibly have existed without the extreme circumstances of the COVID-19 outbreak. There’s simply no way that a segment like this could work in front of a Kouraken Hall crowd. It’s too much of a risk to run in front of a live audience who can provide their instant feedback. But in the controlled and quiet environment of an empty arena, something as risky as this is allowed to thrive.

So often, we hear about the ability of wrestler’s to feed off the crowd. To take the energy being given to them and amplifying it as a part of their performance. Here, we get exactly that. Without the crowd, what Fujita and Shiozaki have to feed off is silence. And they do it perfectly. Instead of fighting against and trying to futilely fill the void, they enhance and amplify it instead. It is truly stunning.

A lot of this, of course, is projection on my part. There’s no telling what the true intent of any of this was. But the fact that it struck such a chord with me and got me thinking not only on what I was seeing but even questioning the aesthetic of what good pro wrestling should look like means that it has an innate value for anyone to watch. Regardless of its intent, it is a provocative piece of pro wrestling in how it attacks both emotion and one’s critical faculties.

I dedicated so much time to discussing this segment only because these two wrestlers in turn dedicated so much time to it as well. It’s impossible not to talk about given the space that it consumes as part of this match. But don’t let all the talk about this particular aspect of the match take away from the fact that when these two do start going, it kicks unbelievable amounts of ass.

Kazuyuki Fujita is an absolute beast of a man. He’s wide, thick, and almost grotesquely shaped. When he starts laying in on Shiozaki, it runs a wide gamut of emotions. There’s the subtle almost dismissive violence of trying to smother Shiozaki by covering his mouth as they struggle on the mat, the hilarity of the man spitting hand sanitizer on Shiozaki or even trying to batter his way into the Kouraken Hall elevators, then the sheer visceral horror of a man trying to kick another person’s head off.

The magnitude and excellence of Fujita’s performance here does a lot to overshadow Shiozaki. In discussions of this match with two separate friends of mine, both found most of their issues with the defending GHC Heavyweight Champ in this match. Funnily enough, their problems with Shiozaki came from opposite ends of the spectrum with one not enjoying his offense and the other not enjoying his selling.

For me personally, Shiozaki was fine. Credit where it’s due, the man took an absolute beating at the hands of Fujita. The strikes that Shiozaki absorbed here were horrific especially those two head punts down the stretch. His lariats aren’t amazing by the end but the structuring of the match that made Fujita feel like such an insurmountable force making Shozaki fight from beneath helped me to overlook that.

What an absolute spectacle of a match. Ranging from peaceful silence to cacophonous violence, this is a title match that has an ambition that I truly don’t see being matched for a very long time. This might be too bold a claim to make in only the third month of 2020 especially when global level doom seems to loom on the horizon, but this is an early match of the decade candidate for me. It feels so far beyond anything else that I’ve seen this year and it will be near impossible to match.

It’s also an anomaly of a match that invites any and all opinions that will each have pretty much the same amount of validity. Anyone who says that 35 minutes of no action is both wasteful and boring is just as right as anything else I’ve said above.

But in the end, I return to the idea that this match must be seen.

*****

https://josephmontecillo.wordpress.com/2020/03/30/go-shiozaki-vs-kazuyuki-fujita-noah-20th-anniversary-noah-the-chronicle-vol-2-3-29-20/

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Okay. It's time to add my two cents into this match. This has got to be one of the most unique matches of all time. Also one of the more talked about NOAH matches since the 00s. It has warranted tons of discussion from non-NOAH fans. Mostly good. And most of that comes from the way the match was worked. It was different. I'm a big sucker for unconventional matches. Unconventional media, in fact. Films, books, TV shows, even wrestling. Any subversion of a formula brings my intrigue straight away (Ironically my favourites are mostly formula driven but still). This didn’t need gimmicks to do that. And it's not even different because of the empty arena because that has become normal now. 

This was a normal title match between the champion and the challenger. It has a simple enough premise. However the match kicks off with a staredown. A long staredown. Think Riki Choshu vs Shinya Hashimto 97 in the Dome. It kicks off with a long staredown, but even longer than you’d expect. It was nearly thirty minutes long. It plays off Fujita previously staring holes into his opponents as a form of mind games. And I like that. It can border on pretentious in the wrong hands, and maybe Fujita is a wrong hand in some eyes, but it worked in this case. One could argue that this is one of those matches that you need to watch without spoilers or live. I don’t believe in that crutch honestly. The quality should shine through regardless, and this shines through. 

The match transitioned well from that with Fujita taking Shiozaki down and dominating him on the floor, obviously using his MMA training and experience to his advantage. But the appeal of this bit was Go forcefully trying to overcome that. Not taking the easy escape of the rope breaks, forcing his way through. Showing that pride of a champion. Another example of Go being defiant was him not selling the punt kick from Fujita. A big blow for him going back from even his original New Japan run. So that was pretty insane. And this was the story for most of the second half, I’d say. Fujita would throw some big strikes (elbows, slaps, etc) and Go would just keep coming back. I like how the finish plays on your expectations of a 60 minute time limit. Similar to Flair/Steamboat II. You expect a 60 minute time limit when you’re 57 minutes into the match but they don’t do that. Go overcomes the obstacle and reigns victories. In this case, I think the match would have benefited big time with a crowd but it was a good closing stretch regardless. 

The match had some big pluses. Great moments where I was invested all the way and loved. Go no selling the hard strikes hooked me big time. The staredown was a joy to watch. Perhaps could’ve been shorter but it works well into the match and it made the initial exchange feel significant. However, the match had its flaws. The match had to shoehorn in a crowd brawling section into the match with Fujita attempting to throw Go over the balcony. It wasn’t all that exciting or interesting. It could’ve easily been thrown out. Great match that is something that you won’t see often and is perhaps uneasy on the eyes but was something that I found enjoyable to watch. Far from an all time classic, in my opinion. But a great match that warrants looking at. ****
 

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Fujita tries to get in Shiozaki's head by starting this off with a THIRTY MINUTE STAREDOWN. At the 15 minute mark, Fujita looks like he's about to start grappling, but he just moves to another corner. This cemented Fujita as a prick heel who's not going to play Shiozaki's game. Once Fujita finally shots for a takedown, he's successful but he's in no hurry to advance to a better position. He keeps Go in the same position for minutes at a time, all while laying in some trash talk. Fujita takes Shiozaki on a tour of the Kouraken before trying to throw him off the balcony. The match loses me once they get back in the ring. Everything is fine. It's a fairly violent hoss match that teases a time limit draw. Seeing Fujita soccer kick someone in the head when they're down will never not be entertaining though. Although it's a tad pretentious, I give them props for making something unique out of our current situation, but I don't think I'll ever watch this again. 

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This was not a wrestling match it was an experience, one that I enjoyed very much. From the start with both men testing each others mental toughness with the now infamous 30 minute stare down then turning things into an all out brawl kept me intrigued. Fujita awesome in his shooter role doing his best to hurt and maim Go. For his part Shiozaki just gave his body in order to make Fujita look like the biggest badass walking the earth. He was also great using those lariats and chops at the right moments in his comebacks. I appreciate how they presented things different and the effort by both with the commitment to see everything through. I know some dislikes this but I'm putting this in my notebook for sure. 

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I'm convinced this was a parody of the padded main event epic that we so often these days. I mean, they ARE partners with DDT now. I will say that Fujita waiting for the elevator before getting frustrated and going up the stairs was hilarious and the last 10 minutes had all the bomb-throwing you could ask for. It was interesting, but yeah am definitely not watching this again.

***3/4

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