While most wrestling programs were either on hiatus or trying to make things work without an audience, Fite TV started airing what might be perfect weekly wrestling show for this pandemic, The Gatoh Move Experience. Shows from Emi Sakura’s promotion Gatoh Move – filmed back when it was completely fine to gather in groups – are set to air for free on Fite on Tuesdays at 6 PM Pacific/9 PM Eastern, and their style of wrestling might be just what everyone’s quarantined brain needs.
Though Gatoh Move’s events rarely have audiences of over a hundred people, it has developed an international reputation. Over the past year or so, more eyes have been drawn to the promotion by Sakura and her protégé Riho performing for All Elite Wrestling, and gifs and videos from Gatoh Move matches (especially ones featuring LuLu Pencil) being shared around on the wrestling internet. The company has also gotten more exposure through a relationship with UK women’s promotion Pro Wrestling EVE, and by hosting guest stars with their own fan bases, including Kenny Omega, Chris Brookes, and recently Minoru Suzuki.
Gatoh Move began in 2012 in Thailand, but its home venue is now in Tokyo at Ichigaya Chocolate Square, a small performing space (the people watching the show through the window are actually watching it from outside in an alley) that’s as much of a character in the world of Gatoh Move as New York is in Sex and the City. The venue contributes to the show’s friendly, cozy atmosphere; the audience seated around the brightly-colored mat is a visual reminiscent of preschool and indie theater.
The first episode of the Fite series shows a Gatoh Move event from December 30, 2018, and after a song from the roster, it kicks off with a match between the newcomer An Chamu and the veteran Riho, a few months before she left Gatoh Move to join AEW and make Stardom her new home promotion in Japan. It’s followed by another vet vs. rookie matchup: Saki vs. the energetic Mei Suruga, who in 2020 is probably the ace of Gatoh Move. After these two pretty straightforward singles matches, the main event is a more comedic intergender fight, Hyakkin Thunders (Emi Sakura and DDT’s Masahiro Takanashi) and Baliyan Akki vs. the superhero team of Mitsuru Konno, Sawasadee Kamen, and Sayaka Obihiro.
Each of the matches has its own tone, characters, and story, but one uniquely Gatoh Move thing they have in common is how the wrestlers utilize the environment of Ichigaya Chocolate Square, using the open windows and the wall similarly to how wrestlers use ropes in regular rings. Less often, the lack of ropes or any other barrier between the wrestling space and the fans means that performers make contact with the audience – but only intentionally, and during some sequences you can’t help but be impressed that they don’t bump into the spectators more.
The Gatoh Move Experience ends in an even more friendly, less traditional way than it begins, with the wrestlers passing out cups of tea to the audience and chatting with them (mostly in Japanese, with English subtitles.) Wrestlers being wrestlers means they obviously hawk their merch, but the roster also updates the fans on what they’ve been doing in their careers and what they have coming up, sometimes with promos thrown in. In this episode, the group celebrates two special occasions during this part of the show: Saki’s sixth wrestling anniversary and Gatoh Move’s last event of 2018, which prompts the company founder to give out end-of-the-year Sakura Awards.
During this segment, Suruga tells some audience members from overseas in English that “Gatoh Move is like a family, so you are my family.” The Gatoh Move experience isn’t quite that intimate through a screen, but the warmth and creativity of the promotion Sakura says promotes a “joyful kind of wrestling” is easily felt. In a time when people are cut off from their communities, it’s that friendly atmosphere, along with the promotion’s fun matches and charismatic performers, that might make The Gatoh Move Experience the ideal wrestling show for the social distancing era.