Herzl (Itzik Cohen) has always had a weight problem, but when he's called out for gaining by his Weight Watcher coach Geola (Evelin Hagoel), then loses his job as a salad bar chef because of his appearance, he's at an all time low. His mama Mona (Levana Finkelstein), whom he lives with in the Israeli city of Ramle, shows him an ad for a dishwasher at a Japanese restaurant, suggesting that Japanese cuisine is so disgusting he will not be tempted to eat at work, but while Herzl gets the job, he also gets a boost of self esteem when he is introduced to the sport of sumo wrestling in "A Matter of Size."
Codirected by Erez Tadmore and Sharon Maymom, who also cowrote the script with Danny Cohen-Solal, this gentle little fusion comedy (has there ever been a film in Hebrew and Japanese before?) often looks scaled for the small screen, but it is hard to resist this quartet of plus size buddies who all discover that size doesn't matter as much as they thought it did.
In addition to an abusive weight coach, Herzl gets grief from his mama, whose husband's death was due to his weight (one doesn't see how until a most unexpected and oddly funny flashback). Mama being Jewish, however, means that she cannot resist feeding sonny boy, because, as she says, even if you're on a diet, you have to eat! Herzl does get encouragement from another Weight Watcher member, the pretty Zehava (Irit Kaplan), who is first on board when Herzl decides to form a sumo club. He brings the group to an abandoned old warehouse to create a dohyo (wrestling ring), but when his buddies find out he hasn't convinced his boss Kitano (Togo Igawa, "The Last Samurai"), a former sumo trainer, to join them, only Zehava helps with the hard labor. But when Kitano, whose Japanese staff tell Herzl is on the lam from the Yakuza, finally gives in, he is adamant that there are no women in sumo. Zehava leaves in tears and Herzl says he will quit alongside her, but he cannot keep away from the one thing that brings respect to his bulk.
Each of the four men have an issue to deal with. Aharon (Dvir Benedek) thinks his wife Dina (Hila Sourjoun) is cheating on him. Gidi (Alon Dahan, "The Syrian Bride"), who owns a Shawarma joint, hasn't come out of the closet, thinking he will repel the guys he's attracted to. News cameraman Sami (Shmulik Cohen) wants to get out from behind the camera and his is the only story that links into the sumo ring along with Herzl. In another unconvincing side plot, Zehava, who told Herzl her prior marriages failed because she hates liars (cue romantic obstacle), decides to force feed a 'healthy' diet to the fit women in prison she does social work with. In a much better female subplot, Herzl's mother ends up meeting Kitano and ends up supporting the sumo team with her sewing talent.
The cast is uniformly appealing. Cohen uses his big eyes for mope puppy appeal and carries himself with the grace many large men inexplicably seem to have. Benedek is the tough, macho plumber and the only real threat to Herzl in the ring. Dahan is delightful - he makes Gidi's joy radiate when he discovers the gay bear subculture. Cohen, however, recedes into the background, the least developed of the four. Kaplan is a lovely romantic interest and a poster girl for sexy zaftig ladies. Igawa, who had to learn how to speak Hebrew for this role, is dignified, but with a slight devilish streak, one which is subtly brought out by Finkelstein as Herzl's mom.
The filmmakers make hay with the bright red fighting mawashis, or sumo 'diapers,' worn by their foursome. We see the friends training in a forest, running through green fields, and, most amusingly, running back to Ramle by the side of the highway when Kitano takes off one day with their street clothes. It is these exterior scenes that really open the film up, as, except for the restaurant spaces, other interiors look like they were filmed in an abandoned office building.
"A Matter of Size" won't have you braying with laughter throughout - it's not that kind of comedy. But it's gentle humor and band of underdogs will surely bring a smile. It's a unique cross-cultural comedy.
Robin did not see this film.
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