Little Miss Sumo & the Struggle for Female Equity in Sports

Little Miss Sumo is a British-Japanese, Netflix Original short documentary about female sumō wrestler, Hiyori Kon. It released in 2018 and can be seen in both English and Japanese. The documentary was shot in Japan and Taiwan. Living with an aficionado of wrestling, I have come to appreciate the sport quite a bit and sumō wrestling combines that interest with my love of Japanese cultural traditions and society. So, when I discovered this documentary while paroozing the catalogue, I immediately added it to my watchlist.

Even though the documentary is only eighteen or nineteen minutes long, it does a great job of highlighting the significant impact that sumō wrestling customs have on female wrestlers who’d like to become professionals. Professional sumō is left only to men with women’s involvement ending at the amateur level, and this creates a magnificent wall in the aspirations that someone, like Miss Kon, have in achieving a professional career within the sport.

The documentary traces Miss Kon’s history with sumō and where her passion took root, as well as when she started to understand the obstacles that stood before her. A student of gender studies, she explains how gender roles in Japan and the fight for equity is not a radicalised movement as it is in other places in the world. Women have very distinct roles, where they typically walk behind the men, in their shadows, so to speak, and are tasked with taking care of them and the household. Because the attitude of progression, especially in sports-related environments, is so low, it makes it extremely challenging for females to rally enough support against the inequality that they’re continuously faced with.

My favourite aspect of the documentary was the focus on Miss Kon. While her message of the necessity for progressive change in the world of sumō wrestling is profound, I think what made it so compelling is her yearning to be accepted and viewed as an equal who has the merit of being acknowledged as one of the best in the world, which can only be done at the professional level. There is a World Sumō Wrestling Tournament, which is an amateur competition, that took place in Taiwan and watching her compete in that competition further highlights these traits and quite evocatively no less.

There are so many places in the world that don’t have the privilege of being able to advocate or openly protest something that is this socially vital because there isn’t a large enough community who feel its necessary. This can significantly impact the progress and ambition of those individuals who are shunned by these sorts of walls of discrimination and Little Miss Sumo placed that into marvellous perspective. It certainly made me re-evaluate the way that I fight for intersectional feminism and appreciate the depth of equity that we currently have. It doesn’t mean I won’t keep for fighting for equity for all individuals, especially the LGBTQIA+ community, but I also won’t be so quick to judge the values of equal representation and what it means in other cultures and countries.

Miss Sumo 10The cinematography for Little Miss Sumo is simple and it contributes to the natural elegance of its exposition. The minimalistic essence helps to draw the attention solely on Miss Kon and her plight. The scenic shots of snow falling in the foreground or the ritual preparations that are performed prior to the matches gave it a subdued yet impactful vibe that is rather unique to Japanese storytelling.

Overall, if you’re a fan of wrestling, especially sumō wrestling, as well as gender roles in Japan, I highly recommend that you watch this documentary. It’s less than half an hour long and excellently crafted. It taught me quite a bit about Japanese gender roles in sports, as well as ignited my interest in learning more about gender inequality in Asian nations and the history of sumō wrestling in general.

8 outta 10

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