OHTANI 3/17/96

"You wanna do mankind a real favour? Tell Funnier jokes."
- Super-intelligent life form to Woody Allen

Roger Ebert has a review where he talks about being under the spell of Charlie Chaplin's "City Lights" and "Modern Times." Ebert believes that silent films create a reverie state. They stay with you. They're not just a work, but a place. Children who see Chaplin's films at a certain age don't notice they're "silent," only that every frame speaks to them clearly. Those children grow up and forget this wisdom, until the films find them again.

I decided to watch this match without sound. I wanted to see if it would take me to some dream-like state, where I could recapture some of childhood's rhapsody and youth's imagination. What I found was something magical that turned with surprise and insight.

Silence allowed me to see all the different notes of Ohtani's comic genuis. Ohtani's body movements and facial expressions are a type of language. They're the sparks of life that re-ignite one's imaginative power. Ebert remarks that Chaplin exists somehow on a different plane than other characters, interacting with the world through his actions. Ohtani also moves through his world quite unlike anyone else. It's magnetic and absorbing. He races about with effortless co-ordination, but like a silent era fire engine, his legs end up one way, while his arms go the other. It's not the slapstick humour of the silent era, but Ohtani is brilliant at putting comedy in the space between moves. Everything he does comes to life.

Ohtani's comic character is marked by blind obsession. His role as the skinny, gawky kid is assigned a "humour;" an obsession his character does not see. His mania lies in his determination to beat Liger. But if Ohtani embraces wrestling melodrama with a camp sense of humour, he's more than just wrestling's "Silent Clown." His masterful performance, imminently engaging and thoroughly enchanting, is part pantomime, part pathos.

Ohtani's problem is that this object of desire is beyond his reach. (He just can't beat Liger.) Every action he chooses to take is motivated by the thought that this act will be a positive step towards achieving his desire. But the moment Ohtani takes action, Liger reacts in a way that's different than expected. This surprise reaction blocks Ohtani's desire, pushing him further from his goal than he was before he took the action.

A gap opens up between his expectation and the result, between what Ohtani thought would happen when he took his action and what in fact did happen.

Everything Ohtani does is co-ordinated towards surprise. These surprises often come as laughs. I've grown tired of losing my self-consciousness in a game. It's no secret I want out, but to laugh and feel good about this match; if comedy is the saving grace of modern life - this match is my saving grace. Ohtani charmed and won me over with clever, mischievous gags. His comic reactions at being foiled are wrestling's true delight.

"How can you say I go about things the wrong way? I am human and I need to be loved, just like everybody else does."
- Morrissey

The affect this match has on me is ironic. My reaction to Ohtani's dilemma is that "life is just like that." The key to this match's ironic progression is certainty and precision. Ohtani "thinks" he knows for certain what he must do to beat Liger and has a precise plan of how to do it. The match plays on this fixation, pointing out that in the best of circumstances, humans still find some way to screw up. The action that Ohtani takes to beat Liger, becomes what Liger needs to beat Ohtani. As a result, this match endures and will stay with us, because beneath the comedy lie honest motivations. Just when you think life is one way; it turns around and acts another way.

The gap between expectation and result is far more than a matter of cause and effect. This break between the cause as it seemed and the effect as it turns out marks the point where the human spirit and the world meet. And that's when something truly wonderful happens.

This match is about the world as Ohtani perceived it before acting and the truth he discovers in action. When Ohtani acts on his sense of probability (what he hopes or expects to happen), he's acting based on what he believes to be true about himself and the world around him. He's utterly convinced that he can beat Liger if he follows his plan. By taking action, he braves Liger's reaction. Liger's reaction represents what storytellers call "necessity;" what must and what in fact does happen whenever Ohtani acts. Liger's reaction is the absolute truth of Ohtani's existence at that precise moment, no matter what he believed the moment before. Ohtani finds time and again that nothing he believed in works in the "real" world. As an audience, each time something backfires on him, the surprise rings with resounding truth and insight.

When necessity contradicts a character's sense of probability, the gap cracks open in fictional reality. Ohtani becomes more than a "loveable loser." He's a babe in the woods. Liger is the lions, tigers and bears.

Children are able to see magic in the gap that adults can't. I imagine children perceive Ohtani as Chaplin's Tramp, looking for love, acceptance, and recognition. Perhaps adults are sensitive to this when they sense Ohtani never losing hope, never giving up, but it's through irony that adults remember from the worst of circumstances, something positive can be gained. In their dreamy state, spellbound children have their hearts won over from the beginning. Children look for the best in people. If they could articulate it to adults, they'd say, "you need to feel sorry for Ohtani." He just wants to be loved, but goes about things the wrong way.

This match has a language you need to re-learn how to read. Without sound, it's something beautiful and lyrical. If this match isn't about love, it's about the bond that will bring us together.

This match constantly opens up breaches in reality, and takes us daydreaming into those reverie places. The wrestlers create within these gaps, breaking through appearances towards an unknown reality, where they find the hidden, the unexpected - the truth. On the surface, the match ridicules Ohtani's fixation with beating Liger, but within the gap, the truth is that Ohtani is just like Chaplin's Tramp. He's an outcast, a loner, looking to be accepted. He just wants somewhere to hang his hat. His little patch in the world. It's what makes Ohtani so endearing. It's as though someone told him that his dream of becoming a wrestler was a joke, so he entertained us in a way no one ever has. This match is one big glorious song and dance.

With each turn, Ohtani pours more and more energy and effort into his next action. I demand effort from myself when I watch wrestling. I get satisfaction from putting my energy into a match. Only this time, I got my energy out of the match. Empathising with Ohtani, I felt that energy build beat by beat. A wild, rambling composition, a jumble, an enthusiastic and high-flown composition, it turned me upside down and all around. Like a kid on an amusement ride, you just want to go again and again.

A match like this keeps spinning itself out of itself, opening new horizons. Ohtani's gift was shaping matches that united drama with humour. He found a voice that was powerful and memorable, because it reached parts of us that others can't. Something that stays around until next time, so we keep saying, "Oh hell, give it to him!"

Roger Ebert, and Robert McKee's STORY.

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©2001 by the author