Melding deep concentration, careful technique and brute force, sumo requires two competitors to face off in a ring, with the goal of forcing their opponent to the ground or out of bounds. The martial art dates back centuries in Japan, where it’s deeply intertwined with cultural identity, serving as both Shinto ritual and national sport. In recent decades, however, interest in sumo has stretched well beyond the Japanese islands, and especially to greater Asia and eastern Europe. But even as foreign-born athletes now regularly reach sumo’s highest ranks, its governing bodies are far less inclusive when it comes to the participation of women, who are barred from professional competition.
I Am Tuvsho (2022) follows Tuvshinjargal Bum-Erdene, who, working from the margins of sumo culture as a female wrestler living in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia is nonetheless singularly focused on mastering the sport. Shy, quiet and often bullied for her size as a child, she began to gain self-confidence through the discipline of sumo, eventually dominating youth competitions. Capturing footage from her life in and out of the ring, the directors George Thomson and Lukas Schrank, based in London and Melbourne respectively, follow Bum-Erdene as she transitions from youth champion and fights to reach the pinnacle of her sport at the Sumo World Championships in Osaka, Japan.
Although I Am Tuvsho is, in many ways, a straightforward portrait of striving for greatness in sport, Thomson and Schrank elevate familiar themes by capturing Bum-Erdene’s world and mindset with artful production. Through striking editing and cinematography, they immerse viewers in two settings they’ve likely never visited – Ulaanbaatar and the sumo ring. Sound design centred on Bum-Erdene’s tranquil yet steadied voice and a score that often evokes the sounds of intense heartbeats summon up both her unwavering focus and nerves. From this craftwork, a captivating psychological portrait emerges, touching on timeless themes of what it means to test your limits and find your path – even if it’s an uncommon one.
Written by Adam D’Arpino
Directors: George Thomson, Lukas Schrank
Producer: Enkhtsag Damdinjav
Website: Visitor Studio