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Into the Indies 01.12.10: Romeo vs. Juliet

January 12, 2010 | Posted by Ryan Byers


Banner Courtesy of John Meehan

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Into the Indies, the column responsible for DDT almost winning Indy Wrestling Show of the Year.

One of my favorite things about independent wrestling in the Land of the Rising Sun these days is the level of creativity that seems to be flowing throughout the sport. Though there are several traditional wrestling shows taking place every day in Japan, if you try to argue that this is a country in which no new wrestling-related ideas are being generated, you’re dead wrong. In addition to standard wrestling cards, there are plenty of what I like to refer to as “concept shows” or cards in which all of the matches fit a particular, unique theme as opposed to playing off of the promotion’s usual storylines.

In today’s column, we will be taking a look at one of the most unusual of those concept shows to come down the pike in quite some time, namely Big Japan Wrestling’s “Romeo vs. Juliet” card from October 1, 2009. You see, somebody in the BJW offices decided that wrestling fans weren’t getting quite enough culture. They thought that it would be a great idea to combine everybody’s favorite pseudo-sport with classic literature. Romeo vs. Juliet wouldn’t just be a standard wrestling show with a few matches, some promos hyping up those matches, and maybe a post-match angle or two. Oh no. Instead, Romeo vs. Juliet would use the art of professional wrestling and professional wrestling promos in order to retell the classic Shakespearean tragedy Romeo and Juliet.

In putting the concept into action, Big Japan took its regular roster of miscreants and assigned each one of them a role from the play that has hounded English-speaking high school sophomores for generations. For one night only, the BJW wrestlers worked under their Shakespearean character’s names, which should make things nice and confusing for those of you who do not have much previous exposure to the Big Japan competitors. However, if it helps any, we have seen many of them in this column before thanks to reviews of promotions like FMW, Apache Army, and IWA Japan.

So, how will the semi-theatrical debut of men like Abdullah Kobayashi, Jun Kasai, and Daisuke Sekimoto pan out? Will they break a leg, or will they be yanked off of the stage in seconds by a comically large vaudeville cane? Let’s take a look . . .

The show opens on a female singer in mid-ring, holding an umbrella and wearing a raincoat. She bursts into song, being accompanied – and I swear that I am not making this up – by a portly little person wearing a wrestling singlet and an angel’s wings. The little person plays a mini-piano while the singer belts out a ballad that I cannot understand due to it being in her native tongue and not mine. She concludes to polite applause, after which introductions begin for our first match.



Match Numero Uno: Gregory Okabayashi, Samson Ishikawa, & Stefano Kawakami vs. Balthasar Takeda, Abram Kodaka, & Montague Hoshino

This actually begins with a fair amount of mic work. From what I can gather, this match is meant to be a re-enactment of the opening scene of the play, in which there is a brawl between the Montague and Capulet houses. In this instance, Kankuro Hoshino, a wrestler who is slightly older than most of the company’s roster but not necessarily a veteran, is cast as Lord Montague while younger grapplers Isami Kodaka and Masashi Takeda are cast as his servants Balthasar and Abram. They confront the opposing team, representing the Capulet clan. Yuji Okabayashi, Shinya Ishikawa, and Ryuichi Kawakami make up that team, each being cast as one of the Capulet servants.

The Montague team begins in the ring, while the Capulets appear on an elevated platform above the arena’s entryway. Hoshino spends a fair amount of time insulting the Capulets, including numerous gestures to his crotch. Eventually, the Capulets become so offended that they can take no more and rush down to the stage for a battle.

It’s a thee-on-three brawl as soon as the bell rings, with bodies occupying every possible point around ringside. When we get two wrestlers alone in the ring, they are Takeda and Ishikawa, who trade forearms. Ishikawa thinks he has that battle won and tries to run the ropes, but Takeda catches him with a knee. Ishikawa responds with a running forearm and gets a nearfall but is immediately caught with a spinebuster variant. Takeda uses that opening to make a tag to Kodaka, who lands a dropkick for two almost immediately. Ishikawa responds with a kick of his own and tags in Okabayashi, who lifts his man with a powerslam and a brianbuster in short order. He then attempts a running lariat, but Kodaka ducks under and makes a leaping dive into his corner, tagging Hoshino in the process. Hoshino, though he is a better match for Okabayashi in terms of size, looks down at his hand as though he cannot believe what has just happened, perhaps because he is playing nobility while his teammates are supposed to be no more than his lowly servants.

Okabayashi takes Hoshino off of his feet with a shoulderblock not once but twice, after which Kodaka comes in illegally and knocks Okayabashi down to the floor with a missile dropkick. Apparently we’re wrestling under lucha rules here, as Kawakami runs in immediately after his partner hits the floor and takes Hoshino over with a variation on the northern lights suplex. Kawakami sets up for a German, but Hoshino kicks him low and we have a six-man brawl once more. Hoshino remains in the ring with the downed Kawikami, though, hitting a senton for a two count as both of the other Capulets save. Hoshino and Kawikami remain our pairing in the ring, with the former man getting a chair. He misses a wild swing with it, allowing Kawikami to school boy him for two. It looks like Kawakami is getting ready to eat Hoshino’s proverbial lunch, but, as he runs the ropes, one of the Montagues blasts him in the back with a chairshot from the outside. The weakened Kawakami runs directly into a lariat from Hoshino and is pinned.

After the bell, the two warring families continue to brawl, with more wrestlers pouring out from the locker room and joining the fray until the authorities entered the ring, presumably informing the Capulets and the Montagues that anymore fighting between the two of them will be punishable by death.

Match Thoughts: As one might suspect from my play-by-play and general descriptions of this card, it is not a show about in-ring competition. This entire evening is designed to put focus on the theatrical aspects of professional wrestling, perhaps moreso than any other card in history. Because of this, it should come as no surprise that the opening six man tag team bout was far from spectacular. All of the match’s technical aspects were competently presented, but it was too short and took too big of a backseat to the greater Shakespearean story being told to stand out as anything other than window dressing. There were definitely some nice touches made to fit the story, though, perhaps most notable the noble Hoshino almost being a liability for his team and needing his servants, who presumably would have more experience fighting, to do the majority of his heavy lifting. *1/2



Match Numero Dos: Juliet Numazawa & Paris Teioh vs. Tsutomo Oosugi & Hercules Senga

This match is meant to represent the ball held by the Capulet family, with “Black Angel” Jaki Numazawa taking on the role of Juliet and MEN’s Teioh, formerly of Kaientai, playing her would-be husband, Paris. I was afraid of what Numazawa would look like when playing a thirteen year old girl, but, fortunately, the company has chosen not to doll him up too much and has instead allowed him to maintain his usual “world’s ugliest deathmatch wrestler” look. He does, however, do a good job of selling the fact that he does not want to be involved in this at all, which is presumably how Juliet herself would have felt about a potential wedding to the older Count. Oosugi and Senga, who regularly compete as a tag team known as the Speeds of Sound, have not been cast as proper characters from the play. Instead, they are presumably representing another couple on the dance floor with the Juliet-Paris tandem.

Teioh begins the match with Oosugi, and they go to the mat with a series of quick exchanges that culminate in a couple of stand-ups that the crowd applauds. We get a quick tag to Senga, and Numazawa is tagged in as well, though he acts hesitant to get into the ring. Perhaps he was right to be reserved, as he immediately gets double teamed by the Speeds of Sound. The smaller wrestlers absolutely pummel Jaki with high speed moves off of the ropes, making the old Backseat Boys “Dream Sequence” look like a walk in the park. The chaos culminates in a swinging neckbreaker and a basement dropkick to the side of the head, the latter of which sends Numazawa rolling out of the ring and to the floor. Teioh runs in to avenge his date, and he isolates Oosugi, then hitting him with a backbreaker. Numazawa returns to the ring at this point, but he and Teioh cannot get on the same page and wind up nailing one another with forearms. The Paris/Juliet team falls out of the ring, where the Speeds hit them with stereo dives before returning Numazawa to the ring. Paris grabs Oosugi’s leg, pulling him out of the ring, while Numazawa hits Senga with a lariat and goes for a chair. Teioh prevents the weapon from being used, though, instead whipping Hercules into a Numazawa slam. Senga then eats a blue thunder driver from the former Kaientai member, but Oosugi runs in for the save. Numazawa dispatches him with a dropkick, after which Paris Teioh gives Senga his miracle ecstacy to score the pinfall.

However, once the match is over, it is revealed that Jun “Romeo” Kasai has been watching Juliet from the shadows all along. He approaches the ring looking lovestruck. Paris prevents Romeo from reaching his love by distracting him with a bunch of bananas, but the distraction is short-lived. Teioh tells Kasai that the union between he and Numazawa is not to be, sending a lovesick Crazy Monkey running from the ring.

Match Thoughts: Again, match quality is secondary to putting on an odd production of the play up and down this card. In terms setting forth the scene that was being depicted, this was actually an excellent choice of match. The style of Teioh and the Speeds of Sound is fast paced and rooted in high flying and complex chains of double team moves, meaning that they were the perfect fit for a bout that was supposed to represent a ballroom dance. (In fact, in a standard wrestling match, some critics have complained that Senga and Oosugi’s matches appear “too choreographed.”) Jaki Numazawa and his standard style of wrestling do not exactly fit that mold, but he did a good job of keeping up with the smaller, quicker men. Even when he failed to do so, that served to play into the story, as it highlighted the fact that his Juliet character was mismatched with Paris, indicating that their union was not to be. *

Before we can go any further with the actual wrestling, hyjinx begin to abound. First of all, the Capulet clan hits the ring with flashlights on the lookout for Juliet. A small brawl breaks out between them, but ultimately they regroup and leave together. Once they have done so, Juliet Numazawa, attempting to lay low in a bad wig and glasses, comes to the ring with Abdullah Kobayashi, who I believe is supposed to be playing the role of the Nurse who watches over Juliet. Also present is a small man wearing a Scream mask and a trucker cap. After a monologue by Nurse Kobayashi, a spotlight reveals Romeo Kasai standing atop a large scaffolding. Numazawa, who is still in the ring, has a seat on the top turnbuckle, and this is presumably the Big Japan version of the famous “balcony scene.”

We then go to an extended scene in a bar, which is ultimately interrupted by a forlorn-looking Romeo. This somehow breaks out into a song and dance number, as the words “Pro Wrestling is Poison” appear on the bottom of the screen. I do not recall any of this from reading Shakespeare. Eventually, the dancing wrestlers all move from the bar set into the ring and engage in some ridiculous semi-choreographed bebopping, which regularly includes collar and elbow tie-ups as a dance step. I heartily endorse this and suggest that it now be integrated into discotheques across the globe.

Ultimately, the primarily Capulet party is crashed by members of the Montague wrestling clan, which leads us in to . . .



Match Numero Tres: Benvolio Miyamoto, Antony Ito, & Mercutio Sasaki vs. Tybalt Sekimoto, Capulet WX, & Angelica Kobayashi

All six wrestlers/thespians brawl with one another as the match begins, and the camera’s early focus is on Ito and Kobayashi, as the former pulls down a set piece, places it against his opponent’s head, and then repeatedly punches it. They then begin brawling on the bar set used earlier in the show, with Kobayashi getting choked by a telephone cord. (Yes, kids, telephones did have cords once upon a time.) When wrestlers wind up back in the ring, it’s Sekimoto and Sasaki who pair off first, with the latter man rolling under a clothesline and hitting a dropkick that sends Daisuke to the floor. Ito and Kobayashi replace those two in the ring, trading strikes before an Abdullah headbutt sends Antony under the bottom rope. Naturally, Miyamoto and WX take their place, with Shadow hitting a big lariat and tossing his man into Sekimoto’s outstretched boot. The Japanese powerhouse applies a chinlock on Miyamoto for a bit, after which it is Kobayashi’s turn to take it to Miyamoto. The bad nurse (not Nakamura) hits a pair of headbutts before bringing Shadow WX back into the ring for an axe bomber on Miyamoto. Another quick tag sees Sekimoto return for the squared circle for a sleeper hold, which he almost immediately turns into an abdominal stretch. In an odd spot for a show from a deathmatch promotion, Daisuke alternately pulls on the top rope and then on WX’s hand for more leverage.

Kobayashi tags in for the double team at this point, pairing with Sekimoto to hit a double shoulderblock on Miyamoto. Abdullah stays on his man with a slam and a Vader bomb, though it only gets a two count. WX is back in the ring at this point, slapping on a crossface to further torture poor Miyamoto. He does make the ropes, though, after which Shadow sets up for a powerbomb. Miyamoto punches his way out in mid-move and then nails a clothesline, setting up the hot tag to Ito. He knocks down all of his opponents with dropkicks and then gives WX a high knee/northern lights suplex combo for two. Sekimoto and Kobayashi save on that one, but they’re dropkicked out of the ring for their trouble. A big kick/leg drop combo gets another nearfall on the patriarch of the house of Capulet, after which Ito goes to the top rope. Ryouji comes off with a moonsault. WX rolls out of the way, but he doesn’t avoid the follow-up shining wizard from Ito, which leads to a two count. Shadow busts out of an attempt at a German suplex and hits a clothesline, leading to tags to Sekimoto and Sasaki. They hit several simultaneous clotheslines on each other, with Daisuke eventually winning the war and covering his opponent. He gets two off of a Miyamoto save.

Miyamoto gets some revenge for being beaten on earlier by taking Sekimoto off of his feet with a handspring elbow, after which Sasaki gives him the assist for a double team flapjack on the big man. Sasaki takes Sekimoto to task with a clothesline and a tornado DDT, but Daisuke turns a shining wizard attempt into a powerslam. All three of Sasaki’s opponents take turns hitting corner attacks on him at this point, setting up a Samoan drop from Kobayashi and a frog splash from Sekimoto for a two count. Daisuke stays on Sasaki and hits a powerbomb, holding onto his opponent’s legs and turning the move into an elevated Boston crab. He rolls that into an STF, but Ito saves. Ito is almost immediately given a brainbuster by WX, and, at practically the same time, Kobayashi hits a piledriver on Miyamoto.

Elsewhere in the ring, Sekimoto finally looks to put Sasaki away, laying in an axe bomber in the corner and looking for a second, only to get schoolboyed for two. Daisuke kicks out but is rolled up into a small package right away by Sasaki. It also gets two, but a forward roll which comes seconds later gets a three count for the Montague team.

Match Thoughts: My refrain throughout this entire column so far as been “on this show, match quality is secondary to story telling.” That’s still true, but this match managed to be pretty darn fun in addition to playing into the ongoing Romeo vs. Juliet Saga. Though I thought that the first half of the bout was pretty dull with cliched crowd brawling followed up by a babyface-in-peril sequence that seemed oddly out of place here in this deathmatch promotion, the battle really picked up towards the end. All six wrestler did a great job with the nearfalls that wrapped up the match, as each one seemed to build on the next and everybody was always in the perfect position to either pin somebody, get pinned, or break up a pinfall. I was especially impressed by the performance of Shadow WX, who for some reason I have always thought of as a boring old school deathmatch guy who looks out of place when in the ring with the current generation. However, he did fairly well for himself and in no way matched up with my preconceived notions of him. **3/4

After the bell, the Capulets prove to be sore losers, as they continue to beat on their opponents. Romeo Kasai attempts to make the save by running through Tybalt Sekimoto with a comically oversized pair of scissors, but Sekimoto moves and Romeo winds up jabbing the scissors into the abdomen of poor Mercutio Sasaki. Sasaki’s death scene is EPIC, as he dramatically oversells being stabbed and takes entirely too long to flop down to the mat in a heap. Kasai reacts with a facial expression not dissimilar to the one that Macaulay Culkin famously sported in Home Alone. After the slaying, the authorities descend on the scene and exile Romeo from the squared circle. He will not go peacefully and has to be dragged away by the midget dressed as an angel from the opening of the show, all the while screaming “JULIETOOOOOOO~!” at the top of his lungs.

Juliet, watching her love being hauled off, takes a swig of a mysterious green fluid from a bottle and begins to collapse.

After an act break, we find the Capulets standing over a fallen Juliet. Two singers, one of them apparently a transvestite, perform a ballad over her fallen body, only to be interrupted by the entrance music of Paris Teioh. More Shakespearean productions should take advantage of entrance music. Paris for some reason brings with him a chainsaw, revs it up, and holds it dangerously close to his former love’s body before being convinced by Nurse Kobayashi to not carve her up.

Then things start to get really weird. (Yes, just now.) A man with ridiculously long prop arms, at least six feet from shoulder to fingertips, enters the ring, and he flails his limbs about as an electric guitar grinds away in the background. For some reason, Kobayashi attacks the long-armed man, putting him into an armbar. The interloper fires back by using his other arm as a club, but Abdullah gives him a dragon screw arm whip and applies a second armbar. Unfortunately for Kobayahsi, this guy can reach the ropes almost no matter where he may be in the ring. Arm guy hits a low blow, but then something even more surreal happens. The screeches of the electric guitar in the background change to a sweet melody, after which arm guy, Kobayashi, and the referee who was in the ring all begin dancing, including a limbo under the ridiculously long arms. However, that proves to be a setup for a HEEL TURN, as the arms are dropped across Kobayashi’s chest on his second attempt to pass under the limbo bar. Kobayashi is then placed up on the top rope and bealed off with some version of a claw hold. For reasons I don’t understand, the dude with the arms and Abdullah team up at this point, attacking the referee and dropping a double elbow on him before arm guy goes for a pin and Kobayashi counts to three.

Just for the record, I have NO CLUE what any of that had to do with Shakespeare, professional wrestling, or professional wrestling attempting to masquerade as Shakespeare.

Anyway, the guy with the long arms was apparently a postman, because he brought with him a massive delivery box, which Romeo Kasai pops out of. He brings with him two bottles, one filled with green fluid (presumably the same stuff consumed by Juliet earlier on the show) and one filled with red fluid. Then, in a shocking departure from the plot of the play, Juliet Numazawa awakes in front of Romeo and begins speaking to him. Again, I’m not sure about the contents of the conversation, but it ends with Romeo holding out both bottles to Juliet and Juliet ultimately choosing to drink from the red bottle as Romeo drinks from the green.

Then they decide to have a wrestling match.


Match Numero Cuatro: Romeo Kasai vs. Juliet Numazawa in a Love of Madness Poison Deathmatch

The two wrestlers kiss at mid-ring to a massive pop from the live audience. After that, they do the next logical thing for lovers to do: They take turns breaking light tubes over each other’s heads. Each man takes between six and eight tube shots, and not a single one of them is sold. Numazawa is slammed in the resulting pile of glass by Kasai, after which Jun lays some fresh tubes in center ring and slams his opponent/girlfriend on them. Jaki blocks an attempt to shatter more glass over his head, though, instead smashing several of the tubes over Romeo’s skull and then digging the jagged end of one of them into Kasai’s forehead. The Crazy Monkey then finds himself side Russian leg sweeped onto some light tubes for a two count. He responds with a DDT into the pile of glass and whips his opponent into a stack of light tubes that had been piled up in one of the corners.

The combatants head to the floor at this point, with Kasai setting up a table at ringside and placing his opponent on top of it. He hits Jaki with a chair for good measure, then returning to the ring. He climbs to the top turnbuckle and then takes things a step further, grabbing on to a scaffolding that is a good four or five feet above the top rope. Kasai leaps off of the scaffold and drives Numazawa through the table with a superfly splash, after which the wrestlers return to the ring. Once there, Jun cracks a broken piece of table across his man’s head several times, earning a two count in the process. Romeo maneuvers Juliet back to the corner and bites his forehead, then landing a shoulderblock against the turnbuckles to set up a snap suplex onto a box full of light tubes. It only ges a two count. At this point Kasai apparently decides that he needs a breather, sitting down in a chair until Numazawa walks up to him and the two begin trading headbutts at center ring. Kasai wins that battle, ultimately grabbing Jaki and suplexing him onto the chair, which was still set up. The Black Angel’s knee looks like it hit at a bad angle there. Kasai continues to dish out the punishment with a lovely German suplex on to another pile of light tubes, after which he puts on his goggles and tries to return to the scaffolding.

Numazawa is ready for him, though, as he dumps a plastic tub full of thumbtacks out across the mat and then joins the Crazy Monkey on top of the scaffold. The two men battle atop the structure and tease throwing one another down on to the arena floor. They wind up doing something just as insane, as JAKI SUPERPLEXES JUN OFF THE SCAFFOLD AND INTO THE GLASS AND TACK FILLED RING! For some reason, it has little effect on Kasai, as he is immediately able to hit a German suplex. Numazawa no sells that and hits a German of his own before running into an enzuguiri. The kick to the head sets up Jun attempting the angel’s wings, but Numazwa blocks it and connects with his own version of the maneuver. Kasai next finds himself placed on the top rope, which leads to a powerbomb from Numazawa. Jaki grabs numerous light tubes and lays them across Kasai’s chest, ascending the ropes and hitting his opponent with a senton atomico. It only gets two.

Numazawa tries to stay on his man with a Finlay roll, but Kasai slips out and looks for yet another German. The two men engage in a series of standing switches, which comes to an end when Numazawa donkey kicks Kasai low. Jun quickly recovers and lands a clothesline, after which he grabs a light tube, breaks it over his own knee, and then carves open his own chest with the remnants. No, I am not making this up. Numazawa, not to be outdone, does the same trick, substituting his stomach for his chest. Jaki takes Kasai down with a lariat after that display of machismo and charges at him with several light tubes in hand. Kasai blocks the charge with a basement dropkick to the knee and gives his man a tiger driver, then stacking yet more light tubes on him. The Monkey goes to the scaffold one more time, leaps off of it, and the force of the florescent tubes breaking all over Numazawa’s body is enough to put an end to him.

Match Thoughts: In previous editions of this column, I’ve heaped some pretty high praise on to Jun Kasai deathmatches. After watching this one, I feel like I went to the well one too many times and finally came up with the one main event bout of his that ISN’T awesome. Generally his matches are highlighted by a strong psychology and near-perfect pacing that allows what would otherwise be a standard hardcore match to transform into an orchestra of violence with crescendos and diminuendos in all of the right places. However, that standard Kasai deathmatch pace and build was absent here, as the bout instead largely degenerated into the sort of deathmatch that annoys me almost more than any other, i.e. a match in which wrestlers stand around and seemingly say to one another, “I will hit you with something. I have hit you with something. Now it is your turn to hit me with something.” Though I still have some degree of respect for what the competitors put their bodies through in order to entertain us and felt that the charisma of both Kasai and Numazawa helped the match out a bit, this was by far the least entertaining main event battle that I’ve seen the Crazy Monkey in. **

With the deathmatch between the star crossed lovers having concluded, Romeo gets on the mic and delivers one last soliloquy. Juliet returns to her feet, and the two kiss again to end the show. I could have sworn that they were both supposed to wind up stone cold dead at the end of the play, but I’m not going to doubt Big Japan on this one . . . they probably know more than I do about seventeenth century British theatre.

Overall

If you’ve read this column for any period of time, you know that I’m a man who likes a little bit of wackiness infused with his professional wrestling. After all, I have reviewed and enjoyed shows based on cartoons, shows in amusement parks, and, perhaps most notably, men wrestling inanimate objects. However, in what may be a first, Romeo vs. Juliet crossed a line and was almost TOO wacky for me. Don’t get me wrong, there were some things to enjoy, mainly the over-the-top performances of guys like Kasai, Sasaki, and Teioh. However, if you look at the zaniness in other Japanese indy shows that I have given glowing reviews to, it is a zaniness which transcends all cultural and language barriers and can be understood just as well by an American viewer as it can be by a Japanese viewer. Yet, on this show, things got a lot more verbal than they usually are, and, even though I am somewhat familiar with the plot of Romeo and Juliet, the heavy reliance on promo work here lead to large portions of the show going straight over my head, as I could not figure out for the life of me what was going on. Normally in situations like this, the lack of understanding could at least be offset by some high quality in-ring action, but even that was largely absent here.

Unless you can speak at least rudimentary Japanese, I would avoid taking a pass on the majority of this show. Chances are good that you just won’t get it.


Looking forward to the next instalment of Into the Indies? Keep an eye on 411’s Twitter accounts, and you just might see it pop up!

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See you all next week!

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