Little Miss Sumo Review - A woman shatters myths and patriarchy

Little Miss Sumo Review - A woman shatters myths and patriarchy

Women's lives have never been easy. In Little Miss Sumo, a new Netflix documentary short, women in Japan are fighting sexism and patriarchy quite literally, in the wrestling ring. The 19-minute film tells us the story of Hiyori Kon, a student and sumo prodigy fighting the age-old belief that prevents women from competing as sumo wrestlers professionally. “I study gender theory,” Hiyori explains in Japanese. “We learned about many women fighting gender issues all over the world, but there weren’t many Japanese women. Japanese people don’t ask for radical change.” Hiyori Kon and her teammates are literally the torchbearers for this fight against age-old beliefs. They are determined sumo wrestlers in a sport and country, that traditionally and controversially does not allow women to compete professionally. But their love or being a sumo wrestler is persistent, even if it means retiring at the age of 21. Hiyori believes that if female sumo grows in popularity, it will eventually be permitted at a professional level. She is fighting not just for herself but for every girl who aspires to be a female sumo wrestler in Japan. Little Miss Sumo, which is directed by Matt Kay, and the documentary focuses on Hiyori’s preparation for the Sumo World Championships in Taiwan. In the film’s opening sequence she describes how she was demotivated to be a female wrestler, knowing how very well she would have to give it up someday, meaning when she turns 21. We can see pizelated and fuzzy home-videos of Hiyory wearing gym pants beneath the traditional Japanese attire, the now 20-year-old tells us, “Boys can aspire to be professional wrestlers. They can easily see a future in sumo. After elementary school, girls tend to quit. There weren’t that many wrestlers little girls could look up to.” Sumo wrestling is rooted in ancient rituals that still guide the way it is practiced today, like the use of salt to purify the dohyo or the ring. The rules are simple, with each match lasting only a few intense seconds. As soon as a wrestler is forced out of the dohyo or touches the dirt-covered ground with any part of her body except the soles of her feet, the wrestler loses. Competitors wrestle barefoot to grip the ground with their feet. Wrestlers are prone to knee injuries and a physiotherapist is shown tending to the injured. With a chuckle, Hiyori retorts, “Because we’re too fat?. Another woman jokes, “I’m scared the plane might crash because we’re too heavy.”) Last year the Japan Sumo Association, which does not let women compete professionally, had to apologize when female medics were asked to leave a sumo ring where they were treating a local official who had collapsed. The action of the referee reignited a debate about sumo’s ingrained sexism and drew sharp media criticism. Women are questioning a host of other confines, be it at work or home, and Kon said her campaign was just one more push. However, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has promoted policies to raise the status of women in a society that values traditional femininity. “Sumo wrestling is a tool of self-expression,” said Kon. “It is something in that way can open up possibilities for people in the future.”By the end of the 18-minute documentary, you would want to feel sad and hopeful for these young women in the sense that they get their dreams fulfilled. These women are not justing in the wrestling ring, they are fighting against the patriarchy and against the sexist Japanese belief system.


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