It’s real early morning
No-one is awake
I’m back at my cliff
Still throwing things off
I listen to the sounds they make
On their way down
I follow with my eyes ’til they crash
When you struggle with depression long enough, you come to realize that it is a daily struggle. No matter how well you function with it, the inevitable thrust of depression is to recover the spark that makes you want to experience the fullness of life. If you’ve been there you know that the spark is fleeting. Such is the beast: the fear that cloaks your mind and the paranoia that finds you while your walk down the sidewalk minding your own.
(Suggested listening: “Hyperballad” by Björk, “The Spark of Life” by Todd Rundgren)
Some days you win, and others you don’t. Nevertheless, you try to get up and do it all over again or else you end up waving a white flag in your room or on your couch or from the safety of any place where you’re free from the world outside that goes on without you. You will do anything to protect what little you have, not realizing that your coping mechanism is getting you nowhere. Not seeing that you need to try something different to maybe get a better result. Even a bad step can be a step forward if you think of it that way.
Misao understands this all too well. The current Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling (TJPW) star is currently on an upswing, in the middle of a long win streak and one-half of her league’s tag team champions. But a few years ago, she was one of those people struggling to function. . . a virtual recluse, a self-described “shut-in”, saved and redeemed by the power of pro wrestling. She found the spark that gave her life meaning.
I started watching TJPW last year. It’s an Japanese women’s subsidiary of Dramatic Dream Team (DDT), one of my favorite leagues. It’s silly fun and the performers are endearing and entertaining. I’ve previously written about former idol and cult TJPW wrestling star Maki Itoh.
Maki Itoh is entertaining in her petulant madness but Misao is more compelling because of her life story. While Maki came to TJPW out of idol culture, Misao came to TJPW out of. . . her shell. In 2018, she wrote a four-part blog post about living with her family as a shut-in, staying in her room all day, subsisting on a bag of mini chocolate cream puffs from 7-11 simply because it had the necessary amount of daily calories and because it required minimal amount of chewing. She lived without the spark of life, which is to say barely living at all.
Her mother took her to a local festival where she saw wrestlers fighting in the street. They were having a falls-count-anywhere match and it amazed her. Chaos reigned and the men fought everywhere. A man in a shark mask bit his opponents. Jun Kasai, the hardcore wrestler and self-proclaimed “Crazy Monkey”, jumped off the top of a ladder and crashed for the victory. All of this excited Misao. She then realized that it excited her. She couldn’t remember how long it had been since she was excited about anything. It made her want to be a pro wrestler even though she didn’t understand it. She found the spark of life, a reason to get up in the morning.
In 2015, she began her professional wrestler career in earnest at TJPW as the green-clad masked superhero Hyper Misao. She wore a cape at all times and flew at opponents saying “I Am A Hero”. By 2018, she had a match with “Crazy Monkey” Jun Kasai, the man she had seen wrestling at that street festival years before.
The match came with a special stipulation that nobody could go for a pinfall until they finished a bag of mini chocolate cream puffs, the only food that Misao lived on when she still was a recluse.
Kasai defeated her after a wild match by splashing off the top of a giant ladder (naturally) but that was unimportant. Hyper Misao won a place in fans’ hearts by sharing her story and reaffirming why fans watch wrestling: because when it’s good, it makes us feel something and takes us out of ourselves. Just like any other entertainment at its’ best. Wrestling can be fulfilling, redemptive and celebratory.
The first time I tried to write about Misao, I wrote a lengthy and detailed bio covering her origins and storylines. Maybe that’s interesting but not as much as trying to figure out why people still watch wrestling when there’s so much of it available to get burned out on. Moments like Hyper Misao’s match with Jun Kasai keep me watching. It wasn’t a technical classic or an artistic masterpiece but it didn’t matter when I watched it live or re-watched it much later.
I want to feel something when I watch wrestling, both for the people in the ring and for myself. By telling us her story, she gave us more than temporary amusement. She gave us something of herself. She was willing to be vulnerable in a way few artists are. It was an act of giving, pure without self-aggrandizement or self-gratification. It was touching and inspiring and she did it in the forum of pro wrestling where damn near nothing is like that. Almost nothing in entertainment is like that, full stop.
In February, Misao turned heel by renouncing her superhero persona. Frustrated with constantly losing, she took off her mask in the center of the ring and cut it to pieces with a pair of scissors. To emphasize her point, she spiked the scissors into the ring canvas, before aligning herself with NEO Bi-Ishiki Gun leader Sakisama and walking off into the cold February night. It was a symbolically destructive act, killing off the old to make a new start. Misao stared into her past accomplishments and saw an abyss.
When she returned to TJPW as a member of NEO Bi-Ishiki Gun, Misao (no longer Hyper) returned as Sakisama’s imperial guard. Her gear was a gothic black variation of her past life of a superhero. She no longer flies through the air proclaiming “I Am A Hero”. More importantly, she wrestles without a mask. Sad that such a face that beamed so brightly with joy under a mask would be so expressionless now.
On November 3rd, Misao and Sakisama will defend their tag titles on one of DDT’s biggest shows of the year, DDT Ultimate Party 2019! in one of the prominent matches on the card. Misao has come a long way from being that girl who hid in her room all day living on chocolate snacks from the convenience store. Fans and fellow TJPW wrestlers still miss the fun-loving, crowd-pleasing wacky Hyper hero, including her Ultimate Party! opponent Rika Tatsumi. She among others have tried time and time again to bring that side of Misao out but failed miserably.
Wrestling is built on moments, as is life. Misao had that moment of clarity when wrestling helped her rescue herself from reclusion. She had another one when destroying the old Hyper hero persona (admittedly, her in-ring ability has improved greatly since then). She will have more in her career and life.
When she started, she wanted to be the superhero of TJPW. Just by getting in that ring, she did something far more heroic. By turning away from her Hyper past, she turned away from that heroic act, practically denying it. It’s cold and it’s cruel but it feels true: there is still sorrow and light inside of us that we struggle to reconcile and that is the nature of the beast that we know as depression. We all want to be something other than what we are. If we change, we yearn to forget the past, to deny it. To deny how it felt to be so low.
Don’t lose hope for yourself. We’re all capable of having moments, breakthroughs, epiphanies. So much good is possible in this life. Joy, love and happiness is possible in a world that seems inhospitable to such concepts.
UPDATE: Misao was pinned at DDT Ultimate Party! 2019, ending her winning streak and losing the tag team titles in the process. Such is the nature of wrestling, as the story continues. The titles and winning streak were the underpinning of her confidence. It remains to be seen what will happen now they have been taken from her.
UPDATE, January 2020: Misao broke away from Saki-sama and left NEO Bi-Ishiki Gun. After a short hiatus, Hyper Misao returned but after a losing a match stipulation became the super-kawaii Akemi Dareda Sore. Temporarily, at least I think.
(Reference information and photographs were used courtesy DDT English translation fan account @ddtpro_eng on twitter and DDT WordPress fansite which keeps up with DDT and all its’ subsidiary promotions including TJPW. Many thanks.)