Tokyo festival opens with grueling boxing 'Underdog' film

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©2020 UNDERDOG FILM PARTNERS

This undated photo provided by 2020 UNDERDOG FILM PARTNERS shows film director Masaharu Take at the movie set of Underdog. Take's films have always focused on painful stories about Japans "under-class," people who are often overlooked in a nation stereotyped as monolithically well-to-do. Underdog opens the Tokyo International Film Festival, which starts Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. (2020 UNDERDOG FILM PARTNERS via AP)

TOKYO – Masaharu Take’s films have always focused on painful stories about Japan's “under-class,” people who are often overlooked in a nation stereotyped as monolithically well-to-do.

The heroes of his latest work, “Underdog,” couldn’t be more beaten down, stoically hardworking yet hopelessly under-class: They are boxers.

“Most of them will lose. Most of them will never become champions,” said Take, who is also directing the Netflix hit “The Naked Director.”

“I feel an adoration for those boxers, their strength, the courage that they have, that I don’t have, and that’s what I’ve been imagining and thinking about.”

Take, who loved Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” and was profoundly influenced by “Raging Bull,” directed by Martin Scorsese, scored success six years ago with “100 Yen Love,” which also had boxing as a motif. It starred a clumsy introverted woman who finds purpose and pride, as well as physical fitness, through boxing.

“When we thought about what was the most brutal sport we could put the character through, we came up with boxing,” he told The Associated Press recently.

Take (pronounced TUH-kay) returns to the boxing theme with a vengeance with “Underdog,” a grueling work telling not just one but three stories of boxers over nearly five hours.

Dancer Mirai Morimoto gives an all-out performance as the washed out formerly No. 1 ranked Akira, gaining muscle as well as fighter moves for the role. A comedian, played by Ryo Katsuji, gets serious for the first time in life when a TV producer’s idea of entertainment is to pit him against a real boxer. Takumi Kitamura portrays a reformed delinquent whose dream is to fight Akira.