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Original Issue

Under Review

According to legend, we are informed at the outset of Sumo East
and West, the origin of Japan was the result of a sumo match
between the gods. Cut to the film's opening shot--sumo belts
flapping on a clothesline like gigantic bikini underwear--and
it's clear that this documentary (PBS, June 8, 10 p.m.) will take
a less-than-reverent look at the 2,000-year-old sport. But the
film is also less than satisfying at times. When Wakamatsu
Oyakata, a coach and elder, says, "Sumo embodies all that is good
in ancient Japanese culture," you may wish for more explanation.
It is largely through the eyes of the non-Japanese--such as Manny
Yarbrough, a 380-pound lineman from Morgan State who added 370
pounds to become a champion--that we enter the sport's insular
world. Shot partly in Japan, the film offers a cultural lesson:
With losers in American sports there's "cussing and kicking of
sand," says Wayne Vierra, a former pro from Hawaii. "But in sumo
... even if you lost, you know in your heart you're a champion
because you trained hard." --Nancy Ramsey