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Tug of War! – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Chiaki Nishikawa works at the public relations department for the city of Oita. The city in the past was won the tug-of-war world championship three times and Chiaki is also an enthusiast for the tug-of-war game. To promote the city of Oita, the mayor instructs Chiaki to form a female tug-of-war team.

Tug of War! is a film whose premise has been seen plenty of times before, a premise that usually consists of a narrative where a ragtag group of individuals attempt to overcome adversity by accomplishing some sort of niche sporting activity. This particular premise, some will suggest, has been overused to the point of being almost laughably predictable, but Tug of War! is a film that remains genuinely heartfelt due to its appreciable performances, most importantly that of Mao Inoue. Given the film’s sporting activity being that of tug of war, it is certainly an activity that encompasses a sense of struggle not only from a physical point, but also offering an emotional reflection upon that of the characters within the film as well.

Director Nobuo Mizuta, perhaps most notably known for hilarious geisha comedy Maiko haaaan!!! (2007), who alongside screen writer Daisuke Habara, also known for his own work on such films as Pacchigi! Love and Peace (2007) and Hula Girls (2006), offer up Tug of War! as a sincere yet unsurprising examination of rising above hardships and being prideful of one’s place of employment and residency. While some viewers may find this somewhat tacky in terms of its presentation within a film, one should remember that in Japan, employment and residency is often associated with a strong sense of loyalty. Tug of War! captures this notion relatively well, showing us the determination of a small, collaborative group in seeking and thus exhibiting a sense of pride amidst personal and collective turmoil.

Of course, the idea of a group overcoming an obstacle through sports has been practically done to death in not just Japanese cinema, but also cinema in general. It is definitely a subject that has traversed the mainstream film viewing landscape for quite some time now, but Tug of War! fortunately does not focus entirely on the sporting event itself to deliver its message of perseverance. In fact, the film showcases very little of the respective sporting act itself, instead allotting much of its time towards showcasing the preparation for such a sporting event and the tribulations in Mao Inoue’s Chaiki in trying her best accommodate both her company’s wishes and her dedication towards making the city of Oita a recognizable destination. The film’s pacing comes is much more relaxed due to this, reinforcing the importance of the film’s characters and their fortitude rather than the physical act of tug of war itself.

Mao Inoue is the real driving force behind the film though. Given the impressive track record of film roles she has received in the last several years, Tug of War! is somewhat a more subdued role for her but she handles with much emotional zeal. Given that that inclusion of her character is essentially one of encouragement – a team leader who is not afraid to break a sweat to get the job done – Inoue does play up the part exceptionally well, offering a portrayal of an individual striving for success despite the odds. This yet again falls into the line of loyalty over individuality, but it is an ideology expressed in concordance to the film’s overall sporting-based premise.

While many viewers may pass off on Tug of War! as simply a film that has been done before, exercising another tired, contrived cinematic journey centered around a niche sporting event, they are partially right. But while the premise of the film is definitely not original nor that creatively demonstrated, it is the small, seemingly insignificant elements of the film that makes it work. Whether this is seen in the quirky humorous interplay shared between the characters, to the emotional framework of the film during its concluding half, Tug of War! is not a film that differentiates very much from many other sport-related films. It does however realize this, in turn trying to work with the familiar material in a rather refreshing matter.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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