ACA Film Project: Small Slow But Steady, Pugilism Serves As A Tool For Diversity Empowerment

ACA Film Project: Small Slow But Steady, Pugilism Serves As A Tool For Diversity Empowerment

Films about female boxing have been on the rise, from Hollywood’s most famous Million Dollar Baby, to Bollywood’s Mary Kom. Even Netflix has covered the topic with docuseries such as Untold: Deal with the Devil. Now comes the turn of Japan with Small, Slow but Steady (Keiko, me wo sumasete). 

The film directed by Shô Miyake, is currently part of the ACA Cinema Project Series, promoted by the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs. The event, organised as part of its Japan Film Overseas Expansion Enhancement Project in collaboration with the IFC Center and with Visual Industry Promotion Organization, runs from February 10th to February 16th.

Small, Slow but Steady adapts a boxing memoir from Keiko Ogasawara, who was born in Tokyo’s Arakawa district, with sensorineural healing loss. Despite the difficulties of a lifelong deafness, in 2019 she became a licensed professional boxer, winning her first fight with a knock-out, 1 minute and 52 seconds into round one. However, the beauty of Shô Miyake’s film is that it doesn’t portray her story of success. It rather shows all the failures that we know will eventually lead her to that destination.

Whilst following the structure of a biopic, the film expands to tell the story of a community affected by the pivotal moment in history, the Covid 19 pandemic. For instance, what runs in parallel to the mundane activities of Keiko (Yukino Kishii) — at home with her family, working as a hotel maid, training with her coach — are the pressures of corporate realities annihilating small businesses like the very gym where the young boxer refines her punches.

Cinematographer Yûta Tsukinaga paints the scenery with a prismatic beam-like effect that has a desaturated twist. The poetic visuals resonate strongly in unison with the film’s sound, as every jab and upper cut produces a sonance of percussion. The cast plays with genuine sensitivity the mindful script, bringing to life authentic characters who convey a profound subtext. 

The story is inspirational and aspirational, because once again cinema shows how sports can become a tool of redemption. The young girl, who was bullied as a child, finds a way  to rebel and pursue her place in the world through the noble art. Her fight isn’t just in the ring with the next opponent, the greatest match is against herself. Keiko struggles with feelings of self-worth and knows that she must push herself to the limit if she is to succeed. Small Slow but Steady doesn’t show that point of achievement and accomplishment, but the journey of pain and hardship, making it innovative in its motivational intent. Audiences can relate to the downfall and faux pas and most of all the unawareness of what life may hold.

The film has been much acclaimed around the festival circuit, such as the 72nd Berlin International Film Festival, the 27th Busan International Film Festival, the 66th London Film Festival, the 56th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. The filmmaker from Sapporo, who became known through his first theatrical feature Playback, continues his exploration of self-esteem and emotional resurgence. His latest drama leads to a silent ring, one of introspection: Small Slow but Steady effectively instills in the discipline of pugilism a portentous power of diversity empowerment.

Final Grade: B

Check out more of Chiara’s articles.

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