There is an air of dominance with which the Chinese walk on the sidelines of the TransStadia table tennis hall. But at the Asian Cup in Ahmedabad, there’s a buzz every time Japanese player Kasumi Ishikawa plays. After all, while the top four women’s players in the world are all from China, Ishikawa is fifth in the rankings. And the 24-year-old is widely considered to be the one who can indeed topple the Chinese dominance in the sport. It’s an expectation that has made her the subject of an upcoming documentary.
The 50-minute Japanese film is part of a series called ‘Professional Style’ that documents the routine of experts in various fields – be it doctors or even sushi chefs. “In Japan, table tennis is very popular with the younger generation, and Kasumi too is quite a famous figure,” says producer Shotaro Oku, who is following and recording Ishikawa’s exploits in India. “So she was quite an easy pick when we were looking for a new subject.”
Filming started towards the end of July, but Ishikawa had become a big name long before. At the same event back in 2007, the then 14-year-old made her first mark on the international stage, ending the tournament with an unexpected bronze medal. She repeated the feat again in 2013. But it was her results at the Olympics that have made her part of Japanese folklore. In London for the 2012 Games, she won her country’s first ever Olympic medal in the sport, when she clinched silver in the women’s team event. Four years later, at Rio, she won the bronze in the same discipline.
For the island nation, that was once considered a hub for table tennis but lost that status to the Chinese, the medals were signs of Japan re-establishing itself as a contender. And Ishikawa is at the centre of that rise.
The achievements though are considered mere stepping stones for the southpaw, who was expected to deliver just as much, and more. She took up the sport at an early age after her mother Kumi, who was once a paddler herself, introduced her daughter to the game. The potential was recognised immediately, and Ishikawa gained sponsors who left no stone unturned in her development.
Coaches from China were employed to oversee her foundation years. At the same time, she travelled all over the world, even as far as Ecuador in South America, to compete and gather experience and ranking points.
Following her for over a month, Oku and his crew of two have travelled all over Japan, Bulgaria and now India. This is to be the 30-year-old producer’s third documentary, yet he asserts it is his most challenging thus far.
Previously he had produced a film on a Japanese doctor who left his role as a diplomat to set up an NGO in North Sudan after the Civil War. The second was about an expert florist in Tokyo who designs bouquets according to his customers choice. “The subjects in the previous two films were older and mature, so they knew how to articulate and describe their thoughts and emotions,” he says. “Kasumi is young, but quite calm. As a filmmaker I want to see her cry to capture the emotion, but she’s always composed even after a loss.”
The documentary is expected to be complete within a year, and he asserts that it may be a good introduction to the 2018 Asian Games – she won two bronze medals in 2010 and a silver in the team event in 2014 – and even for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. “She’s already won two Olympic medals, so there is a lot of expectation from her the next time,” he says.
On an immediate note, at Ahmedabad, there’s just one expectation: beat the Chinese.