Offbeat sports comedy about sumo all guts and heart

By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly

Early on in “A Matter of Size,” Sharon Maymon and Erez Tadmor’s dramatic sumo wrestling-romance-comedy, the movie’s hero, Herzl (played by Itzik Cohen), attends his dieting group. He’s trying to slim down from 340 pounds.

However, his job working in a restaurant isn’t helping.

The leader of the group, who looks like someone who has never needed a diet, preaches to her overweight group members, “Hunger is our slave, not our master.”

As the film progresses, Herzl will have to choose which person, and which of his impulses, will master him. The narrative proves to be compelling and wise, if sometimes twisted. It’s a story of how we grow up and grow into our adult bodies and responsibilities.

Herzl grows tired of being preached to by fitter people, and he gives up the diet group.

A female dieter, Zehava (Irit Kaplan), keeps in touch with him. She seems interested in having more than a friendship. But Herzl still lives with his mother and remains chronically underemployed.

He finally finds steady work in a Japanese restaurant run by former sumo wrestling coach Kitano (Togo Igawa). Igawa renders the restaurateur with a fierce look in his eye and a manner that ranges from gruff to ingratiating. He holds everyone around him to his high standards.

Catching a look at sumo wrestling on the restaurant’s television, Herzl becomes hooked on the action. He tries to rope in three of his best friends, all roughly around his own weight. Kitano resists their pleas for coaching at first. But Herzl can be very persuasive.

Screen cap provided by Menemsha Films

The film does follow some strictures of a typical sports comedy. It gives us an unlikely hero, an unlikely team, an unlikely coach, and a big finish from which only one ultimate victor will emerge.

But it also takes refreshing liberties with this formula. Few films are so honest about the day-to-day difficulties of keeping any kind of team together. Herzl’s friends constantly threaten to quit. Kitano constantly changes his mind about coaching.

The film is also realistic about the difficulties of achieving excellence. As the four fellows find out, simply being fat is not enough. They endure a regimented diet, arduous physical conditioning, and bone-slamming training bouts in their quest to be the best.

Cinematographer David Gurfinkel helps the movie attain distinction.

Some of its most celebrated shots involve the men limbering up and roaming the countryside, clad in nothing but “mawashi,” the bright loincloths worn by wrestlers in the ring. The bright red fabric and the pale flesh stand out from the background greenery to form vivid compositions.

With its frank portrayal of the sweat, moaning, shouting, and occasional backstabbing present in the world of sports, “A Matter of Size” stands out not only because of the size of its stars, but for its gritty nature.  For once in such a film, the glory won at the end seems honestly earned, ounce for ounce, by everything that has gone before. ♦

“A Matter of Size” plays Friday, Oct. 15 through Wednesday, Oct. 20 at SIFF Cinema, 321 Mercer Street at Seattle Center. For prices and show times, call 206-324-9996 or visit www.siffcinema.org.

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