Equal parts sport and ceremony, Sumo has evolved for centuries alongside Japanese culture to the point that it can sometimes seem impenetrable to the casual observer. Upon closer inspection however, modern Sumo is a surprisingly international sport with the skills, drama and athleticism to appeal to any sports fan. The new Rakuten TV documentary The Giants tells the story of how four giant Hawaiians played a role in modernizing one of the world’s most ancient sports, and in the process, changed Japan forever.
Mini-series available for free on Rakuten TV
Produced as a 3-episode documentary series and available exclusively on Rakuten TV, The Giants follows Jesse, Saleva’a, Chad, and Fiamalu on their journeys to Japan to immerse themselves in the world of Sumo. Years of trials and tribulations forged them into warriors on the dohyō (sumo ring), where they earned their now-legendary Sumo names — Takamiyama, Konishiki, Akebono, and Musashimaru. Each of these individuals etched their place in the history books and blazed a trail for international sumo wrestlers to follow.
From humble Hawaiian beginnings to Sumo royalty
The Giants tracks its subjects and their respective ascents through Sumo’s ranks and documents some of their eclectic experiences after retirement, including children’s TV program host, rap and ukulele recording artist, actor, professional wrestler, and Sumo stable master. In addition, it expertly weaves never-before-seen footage with exclusive interviews with the wrestlers, their friends and families, and close observers of the sport. Ultimately, The Giants offers viewers an unprecedented glimpse into the extraordinary physical and mental extremes sumo wrestlers face throughout their careers and the compounding effects of being an outsider.
Remarkable personal stories
For Jesse James Wailani Kuhaulua, his entry point into Sumo was a high school football coach in Hawaii who introduced the sport with the goal of helping Jesse strengthen his lower body. During a visit to Hawaii, Yokozuna (“Grand Champion”) Maedayama Eigorō spotted Jesse and recruited him to join his sumo stable in Japan, which he did after graduating high school. As a sumo wrestler, he was known as Takamiyama and he enjoyed a remarkably long and consistent career; the highlight of which was his ground-breaking 1972 tournament championship — the first-ever for a non-Japanese wrestler.
Takamiyama not only paved the way, he also actively recruited other non-Japanese wrestlers with Saleva’a Fuauli Atisano’e joining him in Japan in 1982 under the sumo name Konishiki. Konishiki didn’t disappoint atop the dohyō and doubled his mentor’s number of career championships to two, briefly flirting with promotion to Sumo’s top rank of Yokozuna.
The success of Takamiyama and Konishiki helped soften the Japanese public toward the idea of a non-Japanese Yokozuna, but no one could have predicted that the next two recruits from Hawaii would kick start a golden age for non-Japanese wrestlers that continues to the present day.
At one moment in the series, Konishiki reflects on the improbable beginning of his sumo career, commenting, “I went to Japan when I was 18. I didn’t really know anything about Sumo — I was spotted one day on the beach in Hawaii and was told I had a chance to be something in Sumo — so I just packed my bags and went. Japan was a totally different culture for me, and Sumo was its own special world with its own hierarchy and even its own language. I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into, I didn’t know if I was going to do good, but I was determined to make the most of it. In the end, it was an incredible journey.”
This determination served Konishiki and his compatriots well as they overcame prejudice, isolation and intense physical rigors to reach the pinnacle of Japan’s national sport.
Rakuten Stories infused with optimism
The Giants is the latest addition to Rakuten Stories, a channel that spotlights Rakuten TV’s original and exclusive sports stories, aiming to inspire audiences through Rakuten’s core values of empowerment, innovation and optimism. Films like Made in Senegal, Andrés Iniesta – The Unexpected Hero, The Secrets of La Roja – World Champions, Ride Your Dream, Eighteam and Break Point: A Davis Cup Story are all available to view free of charge on the Rakuten TV platform.
The Giants is currently available in 43 European countries (in local languages). Audiences can access The Giants on demand via the Rakuten TV App and Rakuten TV linear channels, which are accessible on Samsung and LG Smart TV devices.