Review: ‘Living the Game’

Hot Docs 2017

3 mins read

Living the Game
(Japan, 88 minutes)
Dir. Takao Gotsu
Programme: Magnificent Obsessions (International Premiere)


A documentary about champions who sit and twiddle their thumbs and fingers, Living the Game explores the tournament rivalries and star personalities of the video game Streetfighter. While Japanese director Takao Gutsu does little to explain the intense commitment of the players and tournament fans, the storytelling is well paced and offers some ponder-worthy notions about competitive performance and personality,

Like George Butler and Robert Fiore’s classic bodybuilding documentary,_ Pumping Iron_, this is less about the activity than the exemplary participants. At its centre are two Japanese players, Daigo Umehara and Yusuke Momochi, who could hardly be more different in style or attitude.

Daigo Umehara, known by legions of fans as “the beast,” won his first big tournament at 14, and, now in his mid-thirties, remains the model to whom all gamers aspire. Stylish and daring in play, he’s famed for being able to mind-read his opponents. His comeback victory over American Justin Long in a 2004 tournament, is a match that, in the gaming world, apparently stands with Muhammed Ali defeat of George Foreman or Bobby Fischer’s victory over Boris Spassky in chess. A pop-culture hero, Daigo has written inspirational books, gives talks to corporation executives and is the subject of a manga series. He is also a little insufferable. “I get tired of compliments,” he complains.

Umehara is a hard act to follow, especially for Yusuke Momochi, a brooding introvert, who spends his time in his cramped apartment, practicing to master his hand speed response to a sixtieth of a second (the length of a single frame in the game). He and his gamer girlfriend, Choco, hope to raise enough money from playing tournaments to buy a home, though Momochi’s harsh tutoring strains their relationship.

His personality hurts him in other ways, too. While his method sometimes wins matches, it doesn’t win fans. When Momochi defeats the popular Taiwanese player GamerBee, a former street kid with a relatable story, the crowd chants the loser’s game, not Momochi’s. Can Momochi develop the human warmth necessary for greatness, or at least better video game marketability?

Rounding out this central rivalry, Living the Game includes brief portraits of well-known Street Fighter players including the crowd favourite, GamerBee, the phlegmatic French player Luffy, and the genial American, Justin Wong, all of whom hold their fledgling profession in healthy perspective. In this otherwise earnest film, the over-the-top performances of the tournament play-by-play announcers would be entirely at home in a Christopher Guest comedy.

Living the Game can be seen:
-Tuesday, May 2, at Scotiabank Theatre 4 at 8:30 p.m.
-Thursday, May 4, Scotiabank Theatre 7 at 8:45 p.m.
-Sunday, May 7, at Scotiabank Theatre 3 at 6:15 p.m.

Liam Lacey is a freelance writer for and POV, Canada’s premiere magazine about documentaries and independent films.

Previously, he was a film critic for The Globe and Mail newspaper from 1995 to 2015. He has also contributed to such publications as Variety, Cinema Scope, Screen, and Entertainment Weekly, as well as broadcast outlets CBC and National Public Radio.

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