Punching above its weight

THE PREMISE of Gensan Punch sounds unlikely: a disabled Japanese man dreams of becoming a professional boxer, and goes to General Santos City to follow his dream. And yet, it is a true story. And has been made into an HBO Asia Original film which has won an award.

Inspired by the true story of boxer Naozumi Tsuchiyama, Gensan Punch premieres exclusively on HBO GO on Dec. 16.

Directed by Brillante Mendoza and written by Honee Alipio, the film follows a Japanese man who lost his leg but who dreams of becoming a boxer. In pursuit of this dream, he goes to the Philippines to train and become a professional boxer at the Gensan Quarter of General Santos City. The film tackles the issue of discrimination towards the disabled in the competitive sport.

In October, the film won the Kim Jiseok Award at the 26th Busan International Film Festival, sharing the award with The Rapist by Aparna Sen from India. The award is given to films reflecting the contemporary standing of Asian cinema.

During an online press conference with media from Asia on Dec. 10, the film’s director Mr. Mendoza said that he had to familiarize himself with both Japanese culture and the sport of boxing for the film.

“What was most memorable to me is meeting the Filipino boxers in Gensan. Because I only see sports from outside the arena. You don’t know anything about their lives,” Mr. Mendoza said.

Lead actor Itokazu Shogen, who plays the role of Naozumi Tsuchiyama, said that he trained like an athlete for the role and spoke to an amputee.

“For this film, I just want to dedicate to myself to do boxing. I trained five or six times a week because that is how I show the respect to the boxers,” Mr. Shogen said. “I wasn’t a boxer before I started this film. I don’t have a prosthetic, but I tried to study about them, and I try to understand them to play this role.”

“I was introduced to a lady who has a leg amputation. I tried to talk to her as much as we could and she sent me the video [that] demonstrated [how] she treats prosthetic leg and [how she copes with] some troubles,” he said.

In the film, Mr. Mendoza brings the audience into the lives of athletes who struggle but continue to strive not only for themselves but also their families.

“We cannot have everything, but there are small things that are priceless. There are things that are priceless that we sometimes, we tend to overlook,” Mr. Mendoza said.

Gensan Punch was filmed in both the Philippines and Japan. Also in the cast are Ronnie Lazaro, Kaho Minami, Beauty Gonzales, and Vince Rillon.

Gensan Punch can be downloaded or streamed on HBO GO starting Dec. 16. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman