The Birth and Death of a Professional Wrestling Alter-Ego: Takahara Hidekazu’s Gamushara and the Loss of a Transgressive Identity


  • Fareed Ben-Youssef Texas Tech University



Japanese filmmaker Takahara Hidekazu's film Gamushara (2015), portrays joshi puroresu (female professional wrestling) star Yasukawa Act working through the trauma of sexual abuse through the spectacular world of professional wrestling. Shortly before the film’s release, Yasukawa was involved in what the Japanese media labeled the "Ghastly Match," wherein she had her orbital bone shattered in the ring. Takahara followed Yasukawa over the course of a year, tracking her recovery as well as her sudden retirement due to injury. The ensuing long form documentary was included on the film’s home video release and offers a unique portrait of a woman holding on to her spectacular, transgressive identity before letting it die. The cycle offers a portrait of the birth and death of an identity, built upon the receiving and inflicting of violence, at the point of healing and asks: what strength is lost within this process? What freedom is gained at the loss of an alter-ego defined by a transgressive femininity? In answering such questions, it frames the potential hold of the audience on a transgressive in-ring persona—a metaphorical wrestling match that pits viewer against artist—while revealing the difficulties for a woman working to change and overcome the ‘script’ that governs her in-ring performances and shades her traumas.

The article frames Yasukawa’s growing alienation from her selves through close formal analysis of the films, interviews with the filmmaking team and fellow wrestlers, and a theoretical framework that combines studies on recovery from trauma with those detailing the transgressive possibility of wrestling and its structuring dichotomy between the fake and the real. It positions the film against previous representations of joshi puroresu in cinema to track the shifting gender politics of the form as it has come to be appreciated by a largely male audience as well as against Takahara’s previous self-critical pornographic Pink Films. Such comparisons underline how Yasukawa’s feminine transgression exists within a fraught and muddled setting often shaped by a male gaze. To consider the possibilities and limits of Yasukawa’s multivalent transgression of both gender and identity norms as well as the operating scripts of professional wrestling and trauma, the article also engages with gender scholar Sharon Marcus’ writing on how the rape script might be transcended via the development of a woman’s capacity for violence.

Through such a critical prism, Takahara’s Gamushara cycle ultimately emerges as a vital and crucially murky documentary series for gender and media scholars concerned with the tensions of identity formation within spaces of spectacle wherein one’s performed screams might mask one’s real cries for help.

Author Biography

Fareed Ben-Youssef, Texas Tech University

Dr. Fareed Ben-Youssef is an Assistant Professor in Film & Media at Texas Tech University. Previously, he was a Global Perspectives on Society Teaching Fellow at NYU Shanghai. Ben-Youssef earned his PhD in Film and Media from the University of California, Berkeley. He received his master’s degree in the Film Studies Program in the Department of Rhetoric at Berkeley and his BA in English Literature with a Film Concentration from Princeton University.

His first project, No Jurisdiction: The Law and Post-9/11 Genre Film, reveals and wrestles with genre’s multivalent purpose: sometimes as a tool to normalize state violence and at other times as a potential mode of human rights critique. Ben-Youssef has published work in L’Avant-Scène Cinéma, Bright Lights Film Journal, Cultural Analysis, The Journal of Popular Culture, Studia Filmoznawcze (Film Studies), and Southwestern American Literature. He has an article forthcoming in Japanese Language and Literature. As part of his efforts to teach outside the classroom, Ben-Youssef has also organized myriad university film series and hosted master classes with a variety of award-winning directors including Ari Folman and Ryûsuke Hamaguchi.


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