Behold the face of evil.
JOSHI SPOTLIGHT- TAKAKO INOUE:
Billed Height & Weight: 5’4″ 139 lbs.
Career Length: 1988-today (still active)
Trained By: Jaguar Yokota
Takako Inoue’s theme song, which fittingly enough paints her as a violent, abusive lover. “She dislocated my spine/I knew I had to make the lady mine”, indeed.
-One of the more peculiar and unique wrestlers in AJW’s long run is Takako Inoue. I first came to understand her as one of the “Idol” wrestlers- a former model, she was pushed partially based off of her looks. This wasn’t unusual in Joshi (though used to be more understated when the audience was almost all teenage girls), but while most of her contemporary Idols were wearing tutus or skirts, and had very youthful looks with “hime cut” bangs and long black hair, and were portrayed as spunky young girls, Takako was taller, stronger-looking and fought like a demon. There’s really no one else in Joshi like her. Honestly, with her charisma, looks, and more forthright, less jumpy style than many Joshi, she’s arguably the best fit for a WWF/E run at nearly any point.
She is by far most famous for her role in “Double Inoue”, a team with Kyoko Inoue (no relation). They had a TON of ****+ matches during this timespan, and lead to Takako being treated as kind of an “Akira Taue”- a wrestler who’s good, but largely thought of as the weakest wrestler in a match because everyone else around them is INSANELY supreme. I know when I first got into Joshi I somewhat discounted her for that. But the more Takako stuff I see, the more I realize she was a legitimately amazing worker on her own.
She was a hell of a wrestler- despite being an Idol, she wasn’t dainty nor high-flying- she was a physical, powerhouse-style Joshi. Her big MDK move was a SUPER CHOKESLAM of all things (a vicious grasping “throw them down at full speed” move, instead of the “big lift & flat-back bump” Chokeslams used in the West, where they’re the patron move of big, slow guys), and her regular offense consists of bridging suplexes, with a key one being a waistlock variant of the Backdrop Suplex (propping the opponent up on her shoulders) called the “Aurora Special”. She used flying knees, Tombstones, had one of the best Armdrags I’ve seen, and even did awesome shit like knee people in the face repeatedly while she held them in Tombstone position, right before spiking them. She was in 20+ solo matches, and 30 minutes in tags, rarely looking tired. While her best matches typically involved even better workers than her, she has ****+ bouts with people below her as well.
I don’t watch much of the current WWE product, but people who do tell me that the best current WWE women (Charlotte Flair in particular) are on the “Takako Level”, to put in perspective just how good she is, and how high the level of AJW is if she’s only #5 in the hierarchy.
The weirdest thing to note is that Takako, for all her “Idol” stuff and cheery exterior… was FUCKING EVIL. While Las Cachorras Orientales were vicious, violent bitches (I mean, that’s what “Cachorras” means), they were open about it. Takako seemed like this smiling babyface, teaming with the happiest babyface in joshi in Kyoko Inoue… and she was this sadistic, snotty psychopath. A particular recurring schtick sees Takako being held in submission holds, and actually smiling at the pain! When across from a smaller wrestler, like similar “Idol” Cutie Suzuki, Takako turns into a violent monster, practically tearing the poor girl apart. Every submission hold she slaps on, she revels in her victim’s screams of agony! Other matches see Takako openly flipping off the crowd, swatting people on the apron, being a poor winner (taunting opponents after the bell), and more- it’s crazy to watch. All the other Idols are playing Ricky Morton and waving politely, and Takako fights like a demon. With KYOKO INOUE as her partner!
It’s super peculiar, and really makes her stand out. I wonder if it was to give her more of an “edge”, and make her more credible? Other Idol wrestlers weren’t major contenders like she was, so that might make sense. Maybe she just liked playing a psycho? Because while LCO were “Heathers as Hells Angels” (as another put it), Takako feels like the most beautiful girl in school… who nobody wanted to date, because she liked to cut people.
Takako proved tough enough to graduate from Jaguar Yokota’s infamously-picky training process in 1988 (the year after Manami Toyota and others), with a background in athletics serving her as well as her looks (nobody was getting by JUST being pretty in the late ’80s, and Takako apparently had amateur wrestling training). Among her training class was future partner Kyoko and Mariko Yoshida. A one-year reign with the AJW title in 1991 was considered unusual for one so young, but her push was just beginning. She released a music single that same year, but not much became of that aspect of an “Idol” career.
Takako moved up the ranks in tag teams- teaming with Yoshida, then Yumiko Hotta, before eventually settling into Double Inoue- they became WWWA Tag Champions in 1994, dominating the ranks for over two years. A feud with Toyota & Sakie Hasegawa produced some great matches, and they ultimately split up after losing to Toyota & Mima Shimoda (as much to push Kyoko to the WWWA Title level as much as anything). The sheer number of amazing matches she had during this timeframe was notable to me, even when I only sorta got into Joshi in the early 2000s.
Double Inoue is probably her career peak, though 1995 would also see solo gold- her biggest push in terms of being a credible star was a long feud against Reggie Bennett over the IWA Women’s Title (formerly Toyota’s Trophy Belt), seemingly to prepare her for a bigger run later on. She would win AJW’s “White Belt” in 1996 and challenged Kyoko herself to the WWWA Title in 1997. She only challenged for the “Red Belt” three times, and after that she settled into that distinct uppercard role- were she a WWF/E wrestler, Takako would be that type who held the IC Title off and on for years, but maybe got one PPV Main Event of her own, and was seen as not at the top tier by anyone.
Takako in her early 40s. No, really.
Takako oddly continued wrestling for years, despite considering retirement a few times- a lack of forward momentum caused her to leave AJW in 1999 (two years after much of the company split following bankruptcy), and she ended up in LLPW (where she joined the “Black Joker” stable with Rumi Kazama and Eagle Sawai), Oz Academy and Arsion, holding various team belts. She even had a tryout for the WWF in the early 2000s! Curiously, she’s been a part of LLPW since 2005, continuing to travel around Japan doing spot shows here and there, often for charitable causes. It seems like her & Shinobu Kandori are BFFs, doing the “Travelling Wrestler” gig, which is awesome.
Slap to the Face, Armdrag, Smiling While In Submission Holds, Backdrop Suplex Hold, German Suplex, Dragon Suplex, Dragon Sleeper, Tombstone Piledriver, Kneeing Someone in the Face while in Tombstone Position, Chokeslam, Aurora Special (Waistlock Backdrop Suplex Hold), Takako*Panic (Flying Kneedrop to the Head), Super Chokeslam (Finisher/MDK)
About 1:46:00 in.
TAKAKO INOUE vs. HARLEY SAITO:
* Saito is from LLPW, and their #3-ish star, though she sometimes jobs to AJW’s upper-tier people (like at the Dream Slams), and at other times wins (like in the Survivor Series-style matches I’ve seen), so against the “Upper Card… Kinda” Takako, there’s a lot of interest, because I have no idea who they’d let win. The other company’s invader, in order to play politics? Or will Takako’s kinda-push continue? They’re also polar opposites- Saito is a sporty type with boyish hair and a striking style that includes tons of high risks (think 1-2-3 Kid), while Takako is a literal model with long hair and a “Good Old Fashioned Pro Wrestling” style of impact moves. Saito’s also cheery and nice while Takako is evil. Both are in their Dream Slam gear, with Saito’s horrible “90s Spraypaint” pajamas and Takako’s white leotard with blue straps all over it.
Harley dominates a bit to start, with those great martial arts kicks, pissing Takako off, who uses some mean submissions (stepping on Harley’s back, then her HEAD, with a double-hammerlock on), then starts choking her while in a Dragon Sleeper. Her smack-talk wows the crowd, too. She starts openly strangling Harley, who eventually turns it around and starts choking HER! Of course, Takako is horribly offended by this, and flails around like crazy (contrasting the stoic Harley), really putting it over. Harley nails a head kick, a Backdrop & a German Suplex, while Takako hits a Flying Armdrag that has Harley selling as pure agony, falling out of the ring and screaming like her ribs are broken.
An impatient Takako pouts while the ring girls & doctor check out Harley, eventually wrapping some kind of medical implement around her ribs so she can continue, a la DDP. So Takako “SCUM!” Inoue dives in on them like a vulture, stepping on them and grinding her foot in while she cheers herself on. How was this girl not a Main Eventer? She holds a body-scissors while Saito screams, grinds a chair into the ribs on the outside, and finally sarcastically allows Harley to get back into the ring… and promptly eats a Spin Kick to the face. Hah! German Suplex and a Leg Lariat, but she’s too hurt to capitalize. Takako gets some turnabout, as a vicious Cross-Armbreaker sets up two minutes of arm-stretching, and now SHE’S hurt.
They reverse each other’s big stuff, but a Backdrop Hold only gets 2 for Takako. A Straightjacket & Highe-Angled Backdrop Suplex get close calls, too. Two minutes left, so Takako moves to end it… but gets Superplexed, and a Saito Flying Headbutt gets two! Saito Tiger & Takako German Suplex get 2 each! ONE MINUTE LEFT, so Takako drops her biggest stuff- Super Chokeslam and Aurora Special! But only for two, and she’s like “Come the FUCK ON!”. Losing her composure, she’s caught with a German for a count so close I swear the ref had to hold himself back! And Saito starts spamming Backdrops, but AGAIN only for two, and that’s it for time (30:00), as both girls just collapse from exhaustion.
Holy Hell, that was not only good all the way through, but got OUTSTANDING by the end! The sense of growing desperation on the part of Takako to finally put Saito away was palpable, as was her frustration at not being able to get it done. And Harley looked like an indomitable fighter with a ton of spirit, whose smart counter-wrestling was key. I really liked how they made the “stretching” portion MEAN something- the majority of it took place over Saito’s ribs after they got injured, putting a lot of drama and character into the “stretching” portion” (which can often be boring in long matches). This match made them both seem like amazing stars who just happened to lack the moves required to finally put the other away- not bad for two who were overshadowed by Main Eventers for most of their careers.
Rating: ****1/2 (I was aiming for four until the final three minutes, when they just started throwing BOMBS at each other, working the crowd into a fever pitch)
Pictured: Takako Inoue every time another Idol Wrestler appeared.
TAKAKO INOUE (AJW) vs. CUTIE SUZUKI (JWP):
* This match is set during the peak of the interpromotional wars, with Takako having relished torturing her fellow Idol during the Dream Slam. Takako’s wearing a weird powder-blue outfit tied together with floral print strips all over it, while Cutie’s in a white leotard that looks like an angelic version of Manami Toyota’s usual gear. I wanted to watch this one owing to the somewhat personal way in which Takako seemed to want to tear Cutie Suzuki into little tiny pieces during their Six-Woman Tag at Dream Slam II. I mean, it was VICIOUS. I was gonna go into a thing about Japan’s “Youth Obsession” and the Bishoujo Anime thing about Good Young Girls and Evil Adult Women, but it turns out both of these women are the same age, lol.
And they start this one out immediately with slaps to the freakin’ face, though Takako is sufficiently impressed to shake Cutie’s hand after. Takako tries to dominate with her power advantage, but takes a snap German Suplex almost instantly! And then, in a truly disturbing moment, Cutie holds her in a front leglock around the waist, and Takako starts delighting in the pain, smiling and taunting her fellow Idol! Cutie controls with speedy stretching, but Takako drills her with a pair of nice Tombstones and then starts dismantling Cutie with hairpulling, taunting, and some nasty shots. Takako’s gleeful face as she tortures Cutie is horrifying. Cutie’s sympathy stuff is beyond amazing for the whole match, by the way- she takes “Playing Ricky Morton” and brings it to a new level, screaming and crying in agony. Cutie manages a Dragon Sleeper, only for Takako to be like “Oh, you want to know how to make this REALLY hurt?” and cinches in a tight one, too, while still selling the damage from Cutie’s. Nice touch.
Takako roars into the corner going “Bakayaro!” which is totes insulting in Japan (the most violent form of “idiot!”), but Cutie avoids it and hits a SLICK reversal of a cross-body into a Bridging Fallaway Slam (the timing on that is nuts- one person has to flip at the right time, while the other has to lean back properly so that nobody’s off). She follows with a German and a bunch of double-stomps. Flying Stomp misses, and Takako hits a pair of vicious Chokeslams. Super Armdrag, but Cutie jumps at her when she goes up for another thing… and Takako hits the SUPER CHOKESLAM out of that (NEVER jump up at Takako when she’s on the top rope!).
Backdrop Hold gets two, and Takako’s getting increasingly annoyed with each kickout. But Cutie manages a snap Dragon Suplex to reverse! She looks SO disappointed at the two-count, and a second is countered to a Release German, leaving both girls out in a great bit. And then Takako, tired and sore, just uses her size advantage, BLASTING Cutie with a pair of devastating forearm shots. Cutie struggles to her feet, but Takako drops her with the Takako*Panic (Flying Knee), crushing her (18:17). The two shake hands and hug, despite all the murder beforehand, in a weird bit.
Wow, now THAT was a bout. Absolutely phenomenal character work from both women, as Takako acted like a sadistic, dominating heel monster, despite her “Idol” status, and Cutie had some of the best “pity me!” selling I’ve ever seen, squealing and pounding the mat in agony while Takako delighted in her torment. I love how Cutie seemed SO happy to be in control of the match during all of her sequences- a big contrast from Takako’s sadism. And both sold differently, too- Takako has that guttural growl of a heel when hurt, while Cutie wails sympathetically. It was great from both sides, to the point where despite it having a lot of slower bits, it was never boring, and came off well. That both girls got a turn helped. This was a ton of fun, with Takako being her evil best.
Rating: ****1/4 (a full * higher than Meltzer went, but I really loved the character stuff being threaded into the match’s story)
CUTIE SUZUKI (JWP) vs. TAKAKO INOUE (AJW):
(Super Major Queens- 22.05.94)
* This is a sequel to the prior match, taking place on JWP home turf eight months later.
Takako IMMEDIATELY stares Cutie down like she wants to rip the kid apart. Yikes, woman. Cutie defiantly slaps her, but Takako puts Cutie on her ass with another, in a mirror of their ’93 bout. She tortures Cutie for a while (often smirking while Cutie yowls in pain), then both do “play to the crowd” poses while hurting the other. Then Takako holds Cutie in Tombstone position, kneeing her square in the face while walking around in that hold before drilling her with four of them in a row. Then she hooks in a Dragon Sleeper before things turn into a flat-out ugly scrap, with the occasional straight slug to the face from Takako. Then she hits a Cross-Armed Shoulder-Sit Backdrop Suplex (hey, I’ve never seen that before!), a Chokeslam, then a SUPER Chokeslam, and makes like the Berserker and simply dumps Cutie out of the ring. Hahaha, now I’m picturing her running around going “HUSS! HUSS!” and I can’t get it out of my head.
Takako rips into Cutie’s leg to an almost uncomfortable level (stepping on her foot while sitting on her hips and punching her knee, all at once!), but gets too mean for her own good, gets kicked out of a Superplex attempt, and takes a Flying Stomp out there, setting up Cutie’s string of offense that’s not really smooth (sloppy German and Flying Thing), but seems to do the job. Takako makes a comeback but gets German Suplexed, and has this great look of “the fuck?” shock on her face for Cutie getting such a near-fall on her. They actually get into a pretty hectic bunch of near-falls, with Takako getting German’d out of her Backdrop, hitting a NICE Bridging Vertical Suplex out of the corner, and setting up the Takako*Panic (Flying Knee) that beat Cutie last time they fought! This time Cutie’s ready for her, and she dodges it, hits a German, a Flying Knee of her own, and a Dragon Suplex! Another Knee misses, but Takako’s Bridging Backdrop is reversed to another Dragon, and a second Flying Knee staggers her. And with great timing, Cutie sets up a third Flying Knee… and that gets the pin (19:09)!!
Jesus, that was actually kind of scary. Vicious Takako tortured poor Cutie for half the match until the girl managed to pull off some good comebacks with bridging suplexes and some high-flying. Cutie doesn’t really have great offense (her suplexes and flying stuff always seem very sloppy, and not in that manic Akira Hokuto way), but it comes off as “desperate”, which fit the match, as Takako was clearly much better, but would often get caught with things, probably not expecting the underdog to have such an intense fighting spirit.
Rating: ***3/4 (some pretty good stuff, though Cutie looked quite sloppy in move application for a lot of it. Nice callbacks to their last match, though)
TAKAKO INOUE (AJW) vs. MAYUMI OZAKI (JWP):
* So Ozaki is JWP’s #2 star, sort of, and is a tiny girl who fights as well as anyone, and later developed into a heelish brawler. In 1993, she was merely mildly unpleasant, typically getting really agitated against her opponents. She’s actually wearing a different outfit for the first time in all the bouts I’ve seen featuring her- a red singlet with long leg parts, detailed with black lines and fishnet portions on the back and sides. I like it a lot better than her “red Big Bird” look- very sleek and futuristic-looking.
Interestingly, Takako’s powerhouse style actually makes her look like one of the only Joshi who realizes that Ozaki’s a midget and can be easily overpowered. She spikes Ozaki with a Tombstone and takes over early, working the head (grinding it into the mat with her foot, etc.). Ozaki can’t turn things around until she starts brawling, eventually tossing Takako outside and slamming her into chairs and stuff. Then chokes her out. And BITES her, to the cheers and adulation of the pro-JWP crowd, which is fantastic- I love “we cheer heelish behavior if it’s OUR hero!” reactions, and I’ve never seen that in Joshi before. Ozaki does a cool pieface takedown on a running Takako, then snaps on a nice armbar- great bit as Takako reaches for the rope, but Ozaki all shakes her head like “noooooooo!!” and pulls the arm away from it tauntingly. They trade stuff (Ozaki Powerbombs & a Takako’s Tombstone & Auroar Special), but the crowd dies during the subsequent stretching phase- despite being interspersed with stuff, it takes up six minutes.
A Super Chokeslam is reversed to a judo toss, but two Tequila Sunrise (Hammerlock/Half-Nelson Suplex) attempts end up in another Aurora Special! But then Ozaki literally walks up the ropes out of a Dragon Sleeper, and hits a Tiger Suplex! Now THAT was fucking cool! They start doing bridging suplexes (Takako even ripping off the Tequila Sunrise!), but both mess up the bridges, and Takako repeating the spot makes me think those weren’t supposed to happen. Both girls look bagged by this point, but Ozaki manages her own Sunrise for a close call. Takako tries to finish with a Superplex, but now OZAKI steals a finish, hitting the Super Chokeslam! Ozaki goes up again, but this time it’s Takako who reverses it, tossing her off and hitting a Cross-Armed Backdrop Suplex Hold for the win (26:24).
Some great booking for the final stretch- hell, the majority of the match, but I felt like this was one of those matches where it was “long for the sake of long”, and they had to overextend themselves with stretching, and ended up exhausting each other by the end. A lot of their reversals and rollups near the final five minutes were more like quick, jarring slams because of how they were moving about. But that can also kind of fit the “story” of the match, the first half was terrific, and the booking was awesome- Finisher Stealing in *1993*!?! Sadly, both girls sucked at doing each other’s moves, but what can you do? I liked how their repeatedly reversing top-rope stuff even played into the finish- their desire to end it big got them both into trouble. There was some great attitude and selling in all the submission parts of the bout, though, and cool spots throughout. Shave 5-8 minutes off of this, and I can easily see it hitting ****1/2+, but that slow-down and their getting blown up held it back. I honestly put way too much thought into how to rate this though, haha- the curse of match reviewing.
Rating: ****1/4 (suffers from “Going long for the sake of it” syndrome, but the psychology and taunting was great)
Takako Inoue & Shinobu Kandori- unexpected best buds. Also, neither of them look remotely like they’re 49 and 54, respectively.
And that’s it for Takako Inoue! One of the most underrated Joshi of her generation, and in more ****+ matches than most men! And I’m so proud of myself- I went the whole review without mentioning her posing for… ooh, barely caught myself.