‘Ashima’, A Teenage Sports Story Serves As An Example Of Perseverance / DOC NYC Review

‘Ashima’, A Teenage Sports Story Serves As An Example Of Perseverance / DOC NYC Review

@Photo : Keniji Tsukamoto : Ashima studying a claims in Spain.

Japanese filmmaker Kenji Tsukamoto captures through a gentle documentary the story of Ashima Shiraishi, one of the world’s youngest elite rock climbers.

The film Ashima — part of the 2023 DOC NYC line-up, where it had its World Premiere — follows the devoted training of the eponymous girl. She is coached by her father Poppo, a retired Butoh dancer and avant-garde performer with no formal climbing experience. Also her mother is exceptionally supportive, since it took her ten years to get pregnant with Ashima. This explains the parents’s dedication in making sure their daughter accomplishes her dreams. In fact, Ashima recalls her parents’ sacrifices in buying her first climbing shoes and is so grateful to them that she wants to accomplish something meaningful also for them.

@Photo : Kenji Tsukamoto : Ashima Studying a Climb in Rocklands, South Africa

After his 2011 film Beehive Stories: Millard County — collecting the stories of several Utahans — Tsukamoto returns with a sociological cinematic oeuvre that analyses another captivating phenomenon. Ashima focuses on “the Lady Gaga of climbing” as Mr. Shiraishi defined his teen daughter, who is known worldwide for her achievements in boulder climbing. The Chelsea fourth grader who won a variety of medals has been interviewed in talk shows all over the United States, by celebrity infotainers, such as James Corden.

The “spider girl” spent her formative years breaking numerous age-based climbing milestones. For instance,  Ashima did her first V13 at 13 years old — only few women achieved that level. She first started climbing at 6 years old and as a child she was fond of playgrounds, especially monkey bars.

Through the film, we witness how the teenager and her dad travel from the Big Apple to South Africa, so that Ashima can train on the Golden Shadow to conquer her V14. The film captures the beauty of the landscape explored by the Nipponic-New York father and daughter. 

Above all, this story serves as an allegory of resilience and persistence. Ashima’s father keeps reminding his daughter how the biggest obstacle she must surpass is in her head. She struggles with overthinking and needs to relax mentally. But this is a lesson that applies to all viewers: we need to overcome being self-conscious and wanting to hide. 

The role of the father-coach inevitably brings to mind Richard Williams and the way he raised and moulded his daughters Serena and Venus into star-world tennis champions. But besides this familiar narrative, Ashima is much more than a chronicle of the sportsperson of the year. It portrays the journey to get to those astonishing results and the father and daughter confrontation that takes place along the way.

Ashima, Still 2@Photo by Kenji Tsuykamoto : Ashima & Poppo studying a Climb in Spain

Despite Ashima is a star in her field, causing very young girls to be starstruck in her presence, she is very shy. When she meets her idol Chris Sharma, and they have the chance to climb together, she is very intimidated. She is a teenager like many others, who bakes cookies and does her homework, but at the same time her devotion to her career in sports has isolated her from her peers. 

Success involves sacrifice. We learn that “the first attempt is the most important.” Climbing can feel as grand as being on top of the world, it can be an obsessive passion. All achievements don’t come easy. Ashima also prepares her speech for TEDxTeen in London, which will end up being an inspirational talk that uses climbing as a metaphor for each individual’s falling and rising. Failure is a huge part of success and it all comes down to endurance, because “nothing worth doing is going to be easy, but the effort that you put into it, is going to pay off at the end.

@Photo by Kenji Tsukamoto : Ashima & Chris in Spain

Final Grade: B+

Check out more of Chiara’s articles.


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