Ahmedabad: Over the years, China’s dominance in table tennis has been absolute. They currently occupy the top three ranks in both the men and women’s categories. At the Asian Cup, currently underway in Ahmedabad, most expected the focus to be squarely trained on the Chinese, if not just the Indian contingent.

The buzz though, belongs to someone else. As most eyes in the Transtadia arena track the progress of the confident Chinese lot, there is a documentary film crew with slew of cameras following the campaign of world No 5 Kasumi Ishikawa of Japan, who they believe will dethrone the Chinese off their perch and lead the country’s charge at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Ishikawa is a big name in Japanese sports. And why shouldn’t she be. She has won two Olympic medals already and is just 24-years-old. She bagged the silver medal during the London Olympics in 2012 and bronze in Rio 2016, in the team event. She has come third in the Asia Cup on two occasions, in 2007 and in 2013. She was just 13 when she finished third in 2007. She is a 2010 Asian Games semi-finalist and recently won the mixed doubles in the World Championship.

Shooting a star

For 30-year-old Japanese film-maker Shotaro Oku, Ishikawa presented a perfect subject for a documentary series that chronicles the lives of Japan’s leading lights.

With the Tokyo Games just a few years away, the spotlight is set to get brighter as the tournament edges closer.

“We started working on the documentary during the end of July. But, we started conceptualising the documentary after she won her second Olympic medal in Rio. She is one of the best in terms of capabilities and achievements hence we decided to make a documentary on her,” said Oku.

A storied rivalry

China and Japan share a bitter history. The rivalry in modern peaceful times has left the battle fields and onto the sporting arena. In a game long dominated by the Chinese, Ishikawa has provided the table tennis-loving Japanese, a star to get behind.

Over the years, Japan have steadily narrowed the gap with China. Japan’s Jun Mizutani and Koki Niwa currently occupy the eighth and ninth spot in the men’s ranking, while Ishikawa, Miu Hirano and Mima Ito occupy the fifth to seventh spot in the women’s division.

Among these five star players Ishikawa has shown the most consistency. The success coupled with her personality has made her a household name back home, says Oku, who gauged this sentiment early and immediately approached Ishikawa and pitched his documentary to her.

“I have been doing documentaries on doctors, creative people, including Sushi makers. People who are basically top in their field we follow them and shoot them. This is the first time I am shooting a table tennis player and making a sports documentary. Table tennis is really popular in Japan and people love her,” Oku added.

The documentary crew has been following Ishikawa since July. They intend to accompany her to various tournament for at least another three to six months.

With the Chinese continuing their dominance in the ongoing Asian Cup as well, an upset is all that most are hoping for to make the contest a little interesting. If one were to consider the interest of a few film-makers, then Ishikawa is surely not a bad bet.

(Right) Producer Shotaro Oku and his crew.
(Right) Producer Shotaro Oku and his crew.