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article imageReview: 'Doglegs' looks at the disabled in an entirely new way Special

By Michael Thomas     Apr 28, 2015 in Entertainment
A documentary about a Tokyo wrestling league populated with disabled fighters is sure to raise a few eyebrows. But director Heath Cozens empowers this cast of characters and challenges perspectives on the disabled.
Twenty years ago, a unique wrestling league was born, christened Doglegs. The league is held up by two "pillars." "Sambo" Shintaro becomes the star of the show, especially because of his rival with the able-bodied "Antithesis" Kitajima. Shintaro and Kitajima are friends outside of the ring, but when they fight, there are no holds barred. Over the decades, Kitajima mercilessly pummels his disabled opponents — he believes the ultimate sign of respect is to not hold anything back in the ring.
Shintaro has never won a fight against Kitajima, and decides he wants to finally retire — after a climactic final battle with Kitajima. "Antithesis" agrees, but says the prize will be retirement. Meanwhile, the film spotlights other fighters.
Yuki Nakajima battles depression as well as cancer, and even when he's not well, he always steps into the ring. L'Amant has cerebral palsy and is getting worse due to his alcohol addiction, but still battles his perfectly healthy wife. One of L'Amant's caregivers, Goro, enters the ring with the nickname "Worthless."
The wrestling scenes of the film can be brutal to behold, but it's contrasted with the life of the wrestlers living their day-to-day life. All of the fighters seem to have a sense of humour despite their conditions, especially Shintaro and his friends. Nothing is funnier than when Shintaro and his friends visit a sex museum and Shintaro deadpans "Is there a disabled discount?"
But for those caring for their loved ones, there are challenges. One of L'Amant's carers confides his unease with plying L'Amant with alcohol, and Mrs. L'Amant details her difficulties being married to him. Shintaro's mother confesses she was too hard on her son and supports him whole-heartedly now, though she wishes he would retire.
Heath Cozens does an extraordinary job of throwing a compassionate lens on his subjects, humanizing them in a way only a full-length documentary can. Cozens' voice stays out of the documentary, allowing the innate warmth and humour of conversations to tell their own stories. While there's never a blatant call to action, viewers won't be able to walk out of this screening with the same perspective they've had on the disabled. Doglegs is an emotional, thrilling and eye-opening experience.
Doglegs is now playing at the Hot Docs film festival in Toronto. Digital Journal's 2015 coverage can be seen here.
More about doglegs, heath cozens, Hot docs, hot docs 2015
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