May 11, 2021

NJPW Wrestling Satsuma no Kuni Night 1 (April 28) Results & Review

Watch: NJPW World

Of all the emotional states, ennui might be the most pernicious. Happiness, of course, is the most ephemeral. Anger is the most contagious (ex.: The United States of America, circa 1607-present). Pensiveness is just a posture we enact to hide the vapidity of our actual thoughts.

Ennui takes hold and lays down some pretty sturdy roots, though, and we are certainly seeing that here. In my review of the April 26th show, I presented a jocular look at VOW office discourse, where I was literally begging for someone else to review these shows. Why was it (theoretically) funny? It was based on truth. This is supposedly NJPW Mecca, and almost literally no one gives a fuck about any of these shows.

New Japan’s proven technique is to offer a torrent of monotony, all subtly building towards a crescendo. Those crescendos dominated the critical praise of the last decade. Endless Road To shows are not novel, it has been this way for ages. But obstinately holding to that pattern and actually amplifying it in response to pandemic conditions? That has certainly bred a deep ennui that might take some arduously laborious time to resolve.

The conditions also forced New Japan to cancel three Korakuen shows, scheduled for May 8th, May 10th, and May 11th. Normally, incredibly, this would be something to rejoice about… except that these three shows were the entirety of the Road to Wrestle Grand Slam, a mini-run between Wrestling Dontaku and the stadium shows.

Now, we have no buffer. Conceivably, this should breathe some life into the Satsuma no Kuni and Dontaku cards, as they have assumed the whole responsibility of the build to the baseball stadium two-fer. They were left with a total of four shows to build these high profile cards. As of this writing, they have exactly one match announced, and it’s for the second of the two shows: Okada challenging for the new World title at the Tokyo Dome.

The number of shows left to build is now three, as nothing of note happened here.

For this show, we will skip full reviews of the undercard because, as I just noted, nothing fucking happened. If you desire takes, continental philosophy, and arcane references related to these match-ups, Voices of Wrestling has reviews of the shows on April 10th, April 19th, April 20th, and April 26th.

Our Match Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the New Japan Undercard, April 29th 2021

Results

  • Yuya Uemura and Yota Tsuji def. Gabriel Kidd and Tiger Mask
  • BULLET CLUB (Jado, Tanga Loa, and Tama Tonga) def. Suzuki-gun (DOUKI, Zack Sabre. Jr and Taichi) by Disqualification
  • Hiroshi Tanahashi, Ryusuke Taguchi, and Master Wato def. BULLET CLUB (Gedo, Taiji Ishimori, and Yujiro Takahashi)
  • The United Empire (Jeff Cobb, Aaron Henare, Great-O-Khan, and Will Ospreay) def. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, SANADA, Tetsuya Naito, and Shingo Takagi)

What To Look For

Even the participants are tired of the Suzuki-gun v. BULLET CLUB six-mans

  • Taichi’s backstage comments, which exquisitely illustrate the elegiac ennui described above.

The same match every day. It doesn’t even matter who wins or loses anymore. None of this matters. You started this. But I’m happy to end it. I wouldn’t mind having the ladder match today. You started this.

Did that hurt today? Tama…Tama Gonads… Did it hurt? It’s the same stunt you pulled on us. You smashed his head. It was nearly cracked open. This isn’t just about us. DOUKI’s involved too. This is a 3 on 3 war.

I don’t even give a damn about these warm-ups. Let’s just do this already. I can’t wait for Fukuoka. Let’s just do this tomorrow. The world is an unpredictable place. Who knows what might happen tomorrow? What if we can’t have our matches?

Let’s fight soon. Let’s just do it outside. You guys can all come and report what happened. I’m tired of this. We’ll take it out on them. I don’t give a damn about these warm-ups. I just need to beat him down. That’s all.

  • That said, the ladder finish was not as bothersome as it would have been otherwise. For those that have skipped this tour (which is literally everyone that has ever cared about New Japan Pro Wrestling, those that do not care about New Japan Pro Wrestling, and those that have never heard of New Japan Pro Wrestling), or those that have skipped the undercards (roughly the population of the world minus wrestling critics), this might sound incredulous but it is 100% the honest truth: the very first sign of a ladder on this tour was on April 26th, eleven matches into the program. And so, it only makes sense that Taichi would return the favor and go ballistic with one. At the very least, it has one key element in its favor: it ended the match.

The tide has turned on Tanahashi’s battle with gravity

  • At one point in that utterly pointless but briskly paced 8-man tag, Tanahashi tried to team with Taguchi for a Double Jumping Perineum Press. They Irish-whipped Gedo into the ropes, and when he bounced back, Taguchi executed a wonderfully timed, almost graceful exhibition of one man aerially planting his anus onto the general face-area of another man.
  • Tanahashi? Well, at first glance his execution seemed perfectly acceptable, in that stuffy, stiff way Tanahashi always does other people’s signatures (ie, the stilted back drumming he did with CHAOS last week). But something seemed off, so I watched it back slowly. What happens is that Tanahashi accomplished a roughly 4-inch vertical leap with his left leg (far from camera), while lifting and bending his right leg to create the illusion of height on his hops. But if you closely watch Tanahashi’s intergluteal cleft region, he barely makes it above Gedo’s waist. He reached Gedo’s navel, at best. This shouldn’t even be possible, considering how much taller he is than Gedo. He could have just jut his buttocks out and pretty much reached the same conclusion. I can feel the sands trickle through the hourglass.
  • Sadly, the loss of gif accounts due to copyright fascism leaves me entirely dependent on NJPW’s World account, and they produce at most two gifs per match. And so, I can only tell you this: the spot in question runs from 50:10 to 50:20 on the Japanese VOD.

Will Ospreay is busy all the time

  • His Miyahara adjacent robe. The feedbag belt he drapes from his neck. 23 straight seconds of clapping at one point during this match. Fucking with Taichi after the match (seemingly an irresistible thing to do, even for God). The relentless jibber-jabber. For someone that so effortlessly gets people to dislike him, Will sure is putting in a lot of effort to drive the point home.

KOPW 2021 Provisional Championship

Stipulation: Creation of Darkness Blindfold Match (Opponent Must Be Blindfolded for Decision to be Rendered)

Toru Yano © DEF. EVIL

Several minutes too long and ideas too many: The Tale of Toru Yano and His Impregnable Job Security

For the first time, I really listened to Yano’s theme. I probably noticed it because my wife and I have been watching an excellent new show called Mashiro no Oto (Those Snow White Notes), which is about a young shamisen player that moves to Tokyo from the countryside after his grandfather/mentor passes away. If you want to see some remarkably rendered animation of people shredding on a classic instrument, it’s highly recommended.

On the other end, the screaming parts of the chorus remind me of the theme song to The State (by the great Craig Wedren of Shudder to Think). If you’re into sketch troupes with more members than you can remember and 90’s references that were already outdated by the end of the decade: highly recommended.

KOPW matches, like all Yano matches, lay bare the foundational conceit of wrestling: performative athletes moving from one idea to another. The best seamlessly transition between these ideas or spots, clandestinely shielding the devices of the exhibition yet still retaining the heightened grandeur of the planned apogees. Wrestling is about nullifying inquiry from the audience through athletic deception. If all works smoothly, one gawks and marvels instead of noticing the map points of the journey.

The KOPW concept upends this, almost thriving on the idea that only the ideas matter, and everything in-between is vacant space.

And thus, you have this incredibly obtuse match which started out fun but, like all failed Yano matches, overextends. There should be a ten-minute time limit to all Toru Yano matches. And trust me, the times match up here. This one started to drift around the abdominal stretch spot, roughly 8 minutes in, and fell apart at the first ref bump, which, of course, came shortly after the 9 minute mark.

Because KOPW Yano matches so blatantly move from one idea to the next, we might as well critique it that way:

Idea #1: Both men try to put the hoods on each other, and fight over the corner pads

Verdict: A perfectly fine, ably paced way to start.

Idea #2: EVIL crucifies Yano to the guardrail and places hood over Yano’s head. Referee starts count. At 18, Yano, squirms enough to have his blindfold hood fall off, thus stopping the count

Verdict: This spot was well-conceived and executed. It sparked the good kind of reflection one could have during a match, where one wonders what the participants would present next.

Idea #3: EVIL puts the blindfold hood on Makoto Abe and sends him flying, as usual

Verdict: At this point, I was taping my fists and doing some elaborate quad-stretching exercises in anticipation of a very antagonistically defensive review, one in which I pre-emptively defend this nonsense. This was fucking tremendous. Should I start insincerely quoting Habermas or something to counteract how dumb this makes me look?

Listen, sometimes smart things have really inexcusably dumb attachments that you can only personally renounce in shame. For instance, did you know that XTC, the band of the 80’s and exemplars of smart, inventive pop music had a song called “My Weapon” on one of their early proto-post-punk albums? This is the first verse and chorus:

I dunno what she got but it seems to have a grip upon me
No telling where she learn the things she do to me
And I don’t know what she done wrong but I want to hurt her
I wanna take it out on her
I wanna take it out on her
I wanna take it out on her
With my weapon!
With my weapon!
With my weapon!

Now, a few things here. First, it wasn’t XTC songwriters Andy Partridge or Colin Moulding who wrote this song, it was Barry Andrews, who would soon leave the band after losing a power struggle with the notoriously obdurate Partridge. Second, I’ve seen the interpretation that this is satirical, which you would fucking hope so, and, I mean, it’s sung in like a Cockney accent to begin with so perhaps that’s true. But it’s also a product of English masculinity in the late 70’s in the punk/post-punk scene.

Regardless, even if the culpability lies with a bandmate that left before the peak period, those lyrics stand alongside brilliance such as “Respectable Street” and “Ballet for a Rainy Day” and “No Thugs in Our House.”

Anyway, we’re four minutes in, fastly approaching the very narrow Yano Sweet Spot.

Idea #4: The abdominal stretch with Dick Togo assist spot

Verdict: This is one of the things EVIL does that doesn’t really seem to evoke any kind of reaction from the crowd, and yet he does it anyway because nothing is more durable than a formula in New Japan. It’s like Yujiro biting a guys hand… it doesn’t get a reaction 80% of the time, and yet it’s still a signature spot, nominally.

This one comes 6 minutes in. The two-minute interim involved… uh… a pinfall attempt and a lot of aimless pacing by EVIL. If I was producing this, I wouldn’t even be subtle. I’d hook a drawing tablet to the entrance screen and draw a little home, with “GO!” and an arrow pointing to it.

Idea #5: Dick Togo and EVIL put blindfold hood on Yano and push him under the ring. Yano emerges from a different side. When EVIL attempts a lariat, Yano ducks and reveals his hood has eyeholes in it.

Verdict: We’re starting to lose steam here, but this spot was amusing and clap-popped the crowd. It had to happen at some point deeper into the match for optimum effect. We’re 8 minutes in now and seems like we’ve exhausted the functionally successful ideas. At this point, we should just start obliterating scrotums and get out of here.

Idea #6: Yano puts hood on Marty Asami, EVIL bumps Yano into Asami, who “bumps,” allowing Yano and EVIL to assault each other’s grundles and both end up blindfolded

Verdict: Dreadful, but acceptable as a catalyst to end the match. We’re about to hit the ten minute mark, time to get the fuck out of here.

Marty Asami, I want to note, might be one of the most ludicrously stupid, incompetent characters I have seen in anything. TV shows, films, operas, plays, novels… any form of entertainment. He’s Ignatius J. Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces, without the satirical elements. Woof.

Idea #7: Dick Togo shuffles to the back and turns off the lights; EVIL is choking Yano with the garrote when the lights come back

Verdict: This felt like eternity and, twelve minutes into the match, is impossibly grating. I suppose it had to happen, considering the two stipulations, but why remind us that the Japanese populace made such an irrational, shameful choice?

Idea #8: EVIL locks in the Scorpion Death Lock, but Yano manages to take his blindfold off before tapping

Verdict: Thirteen-and-a-half minutes in, and this match can get fucked. Until now, the internal logical of the stipulation was followed, and gave us some fun moments in the first several minutes. And, logically, the submission is technically irrelevant once the hood came off. But why would Marty Asami break the hold? This point of contention popped up in the VOW Slack, and it’s the exact point where my notes start getting increasingly sour. By this logic, why allow them to do anything when un-hooded? Holds aren’t illegal? When they are unhooded, technically nothing is illegal.

Idea #9: Yano, blindfolded, rakes Marty Asami’s eyes, allowing Togo to interfere. It backfires, Yano nails both of their cock-n-balls, blindfolds EVIL who then hits his finisher on Togo, Yano once again blasts EVIL’s Johnson Administration, and gets the pinfall.

Verdict: In the words of the great Paul Bellini: “Thank God, that’s finally over.” This finish could have happened 6 minutes earlier and it would have improved the match 400%. The final match times was 15 fucking minutes, and each second past 10 exponentially eroded the goodwill of this match.

Is this an ignominious position for EVIL, former IWGP Heavyweight Champion? Not really. Remember who this goddamn thing is named after? ***1/4

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship

Roppongi 3K (SHO and YOH) © DEF. Suzuki-gun (El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru)

This match-up seems exhausting, and certainly all the Road To match-ups contribute to this. Which is funny, because no one is watching those matches and yet everyone feels the etiolation from it.

And yet, they haven’t faced each other that often; only a handful of times in the last few years. But it feels like we’ve been in one continuous years-long program. That’s probably assisted by the fact that the last time we saw YOH, R3K had just defeated Suzuki-gun for the Junior Tag Titles, and upon his return that rivalry was instantly resumed.

There’s not much more these teams can add to the matches. In fact, this might have been one of the least successful outings the teams have had all tour. On the Road To shows, for instance, R3K looked particularly synchronous, full of hones alacrity and increasingly seamless tandem offense. That wasn’t displayed here. And I don’t mean that they were noticeably worse at tag team cohesion in this match compared to previous shows… they barely even worked together at all in this one. Apart from the closing stretch, there was a peculiar lack of coordination between the two. While Suzuki-gun consistently worked together, Roppongi 3K worked most of the match apart.

Selling Auditors will not like this one, but again I have to compare this to the Road To’s. Whereas this match can be unfavorably compared to the build-up as far as R3K’s tag team unity, it can very favorably be compared to the previous shows regarding YOH’s leg selling. For much of this tour, Suzuki-gun targeted YOH’s leg, and YOH didn’t sell it at all. They worked the leg, he made the comeback and walked out like nothing happened. It was fucking baffling, like this guy, a former Rookie of the Year, forgot what wrestling was.

In this match, yes, he does basically stop selling the leg after Despy worked it over in his typically clinical manner. And certainly this is a prelude that adumbrates what will happen in their title match coming up at Dontaku. But YOH sold well here. The leg was worked, and he tagged out. When he came back, he was fresher, and some might take offense to that… but he tagged out. He was out of action for several minutes.

And he acknowledged the leg for the rest of the match. I went back and watched again, paying special attention to YOH’s leg selling, and there are things he does that really do show that the leg is nagging at him. Minute and subtle things, possibly too minute, but if you actively look for them, they do exist. Having to actively look for them may bolster the counterargument here, but if the Selling Auditors want to be fastidious, I am happy to return serve.

Kanemaru looked fresh and keen here, unlike last year where he looked visibly disengaged against Master Wato. They’ve given him some clean wins on this tour, and it paid off with some actually credible near-falls.

Cool stuff happened, for sure. YOH broke out this pump-handled flatliner that was so quick and seamless that it evoked no reaction. He might want to slow that one down a little, because he did it which such incredibly velocity that it wasn’t clear whether he meant to turn it into a flatliner or if Kanemaru pulled out some kind of unorthodox reversal.

Eventually SHO and YOH pieced together enough offense to put Kanemaru away with their Strong X. There wasn’t a through-line in this match, it was all connective tissue but no sense of what was being connected. At least the KOPW match had blatant ideas; this was just a well worked match that went for 27 minutes, with back and forth action and moments where one team reacted well enough to parry and riposte.

This was, indeed, a tag team contest. ***3/4

FINAL THOUGHTS

This show presents a semi-main event that was novel but frustratingly stupid, and a main event that was well-worked but overfamiliar. Out of sheer interest, one may want to at least see how the KOPW match was executed, but otherwise this show is not worth spending the time catching up on.