In “In Full Bloom,” undefeated Japanese light-heavyweight boxing champ Masahiro (Yusuke Ogasawara) is going up against the chiseled American challenger Clint Sullivan (Tyler Wood) in a title fight, in post-World War II Japan.
Chiseled or not, Clint Sullivan is fading fast in the rankings. He’s a loser for sure, but he sure doesn’t look like one. In fact, the entire movie might simply be the paying of loving homage to Tyler Wood’s ripped physicality—especially his neck. It’s like the cinematic version of Tom Wolfe describing Ken Kesey in “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test: “He has a big neck with a pair of sternocleido-mastoid muscles that rise up out of the prison work shirt like a couple of dock ropes.”
Clint does loser-ish things, though; at one point, he gets so mad at his manager that he punches a metal locker with bone-breaking vehemence. No pro boxer in his right mind would damage his moneymakers like that. Clint also shadowboxes and smokes at the same time.
Champ Masahiro’s training, on the other hand, is very Zen. Or Zen wannabe. He’s out in a Japanese winter wonderland trying to see if he can scare up the legendary former boxing champ Tetsuro (Hiroyuki Watanabe) and have him play Mr. Miyagi to his Daniel-San (“The Karate Kid”).
Masahiro-San appears to have done some Green Beret survival training: starting fires and catching beasties in the deep, wintry woods and eating them. But then you start to wonder, because there he is, wandering in an icy stream in the middle of nowhere, when there’s a perfectly good bank to walk on, like, two feet away. There are many such “that makes no sense, but it looks kinda good” moments.
Masahiro-San does manage to smoke out the $60-haircut-coiffed, GQ-garbed, cagey Tetsuro, who, after very little coaxing, starts up many Mr. Miyagi-like, “wax-on, wax-off” type training methods.
Such as the (extremely boxing-related) ability to catch brook trout by hand in a freezing stream.
Tetsuro demonstrates this: wade in, splish-splashing loudly (while spooking no fish whatsoever) and spear-hand the water. Don’t use Masahiro-San’s claw-like attempt—too unstreamlined. As James Bond said to Bond-girl Kissy Suzuki, “Ah so desu ka!” (“So that’s how it is”). To be fair, Rocky chased chickens. This is maybe the Japanese version?
Tetsuro also pays the local mountain harlot Asami (Hazuki Kato) to share a bed with Masahiro-San for 21 days. Can Masahiro restrain himself? He can. But in the end, he’s not sure that he does not love her. Clearly, his body withstood temptation, but she melted his mind. Masahiro-San certainly did a whole lot better than Muhammad Ali, who claimed he was abstaining during fight camp, too, but was discovered later to have been exceedingly disingenuous.
I won’t get into Tetsuro’s many fortune-cookie-like proclamations. OK, here’s one: “From now on your enemy is your ego.” Here’s another, delivered after slapping Masahiro silly: “The best way to kill a fighter’s ego is a good (expletive omitted) slap.” The problem with the film’s faux Zen is that it violates the first rule of showbiz: “Never be boring.” Zzzzzen.
World Politics, Boxing Politics
Japanese resentment toward the occupying Americans is still rampant. Hiroshima happened. And Clint’s boxing manager Silas (S. Scott McCracken), like a 1940s Caucasian Don King, cuts a deal with the notorious Yakuza gang (looking like a Japanese version of Guy Ritchie goons) that his fighter will throw the fight.
But honorable Clint’s not having any of that; he’d rather die than cheat. His distraught, pregnant wife is not particularly in agreement with this all-or-none warrior take on things. There are mouths to feed, and sacrifices to be made. Clint might not have the neck for those kinds of beta-male sacrifices.
It’s Gorgeous, I’ll Give It That
“In Full Bloom” is a visually beautiful movie. Very arty. The landscapes and people are all good-looking. The good-looking cherry blossoms look like they smell very good. There’s the homage to Tyler Wood’s physique. Give it an A+ for packaging.
But all that can’t fully compensate for a threadbare script, plot, clichéd Zen-ish dialogue, and nary an award-winning acting performance, although “In Full Bloom” won two prizes at the Oldenburg International Film Festival.
The actual fight is hyper-stylized, deleting the crowd completely, which functions as a sort of Verfremdungseffekt (Bertolt Brecht’s use of innovative theatrical techniques to “make the familiar strange”). This simply renders it useless as an exciting sporting event. Which is exacerbated by having no emotional connection with either fighter at any time during the film.
Great film debut, though. “A” for effort. An unmistakable resemblance to Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” but with none of the profundity and grandeur. In a movie this artistically good-looking, one wants some nuggets of wisdom that have lasting power—something beyond the obvious parallel of how the fleeting time period of cherry blossoms blooming is similar to boxers having a short shelf life.
‘In Full Bloom’
Directors: Adam VillaSenor, Reza Ghassemi
Starring: Tyler Wood, Yusuke Ogasawara, Hiroyuki Watanabe, S. Scott McCracken, Hazuki Kato, Stefanie Estes, Timothy V. Murphy
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Release Date: June 19, 2019 (Italy)
Rated: 2.5 stars out of 5