‘Sanctuary’ (2023) Characters: Enno, Kunishima, Shizuuchi & Ryuki, Explained


Netflix’s Japanese drama series “Sanctuary” provides a set of characters, all of whom go through their individual struggles in their personal lives, which have an effect on their professions as well. But on the other hand, there is also the sense that many of these characters are truly helped or aided by their involvement in sumo wrestling, and their professional activities instead have a positive effect on their personal lives. In this article, let us take a look at some of the central characters seen in “Sanctuary,” as they seem to have been helped in their personal problems by the sport of sumo wrestling, with which all of them are associated.

First, of course, is the protagonist, Enno, a hot-headed young man who wants to confront and fight every situation in life. After deciding to join the Ensho stable in Tokyo, Enno keeps waiting for the time when he will earn loads of money but is not aware of the fact that he needs to climb up the ranks of a sumo rikishi first. He is least bothered about performing his daily shiko exercise, which is the most basic and important activity that gives crucial leg strength to sumo wrestlers. Enno keeps skipping shiko for a long time, claiming that he does not believe it to be important and sees it just as a waste of time. To him, every other aspect of traditional sumo wrestling is similarly pointless, and he prefers quick action and immediate success. Enno gradually realizes that the sport is a discipline that requires strict training, and he learns it in a difficult fashion. Despite the protagonist finally learning to take sumo wrestling seriously, it can be argued that his bold, flashy self never goes away. At best, it becomes restrained and never goes away. The interactions with the crowds, riling up opponents, and posting boastful things on social media are all parts of who Enno really is. The real focus is on the fact that he learns to be a great wrestler with this aspect of himself still intact, and it is not really about Enno having to give up on a side of himself in order to succeed in the ring.

The young man has a really soft spot for the female body, as is perhaps normal at his age, and Enno can hardly contain his nervous excitement when with any woman of his age. His awkward and ultimately hurtful relationship with Nanami is proof of how nervous Enno is around women. The man believes that Nanami is genuinely interested in him and does not even register the many red flags that are too evident. In fact, Enno is pretty bad at judging characters, and he does not register Nanami as an opportunistic figure who is only attracted to wealth and status. This is the same case with Murata as well, the rich young man who offers to be Enno’s patron. Perhaps Enno feels that hanging around with Murata will also make him feel rich. Through his journey as a sumo wrestler, Enno does learn that materialistic targets are not as satisfying or fruitful, and the internal emptiness that he feels after his defeat to Shizuuchi cannot be filled by any wealth or lavish lifestyle. Enno surely does not denounce wealth, and he would surely still fight hard for the eight million won he dreams of earning for his father, but in the end, the man does learn that chasing after money will not get him anywhere.

The women figures in Enno’s life initially, his mother and his supposed girlfriend, are both harmful and negative to his well-being and success. The mother, Sanae, goes through a string of lovers in the hopes of getting wealthy, but then seems to settle with someone who himself is extremely conniving and plans to get money from her. Together, these two try to take money from Enno by saying that it is required for his father’s treatment at the hospital. The supposed girlfriend, Nanami, gets Enno’s wallet stolen, positions herself to take the wrestler’s money away, and then finally gets involved with Murata for money. A very different woman comes into Enno’s life in the form of the journalist Kunishima, who comes to the Ensho stable to write a detailed article about the place. Kunishima is very unlike the other women, and she develops a liking for Enno from the very beginning. Seeing the wrestler get cornered by his fellow fighters makes Kunishima feel sympathetic to Enno. She tries to get to know the man better, but Enno is quite disrespectful towards her the first few times. This is probably because he does not like the fact that Kunishima has seen him in his worst state and therefore feels the need to be very defensive in front of her.

Kunishima’s character is interesting in the way she questions the extremely tough and borderline abusive behavior that is part of sumo rikishi training. She questions Ryuki about the need for changes to be made in sumo wrestling too, and the latter agrees to it, which itself becomes news to be printed. When she starts the assignment, Kunishima has no interest in sumo wrestling at all, just like the protagonist, Enno. Unlike him, though, the woman’s interest is not money but professional duties, for Kunishima has been demoted to the sports desk from politics and therefore now has to write on sumo. It is gradually revealed that she had started some intimate relationship with one of the senior journalists in the politics desk and had reported on something with his advice and permission. However, when the news agency took action against this report, Kunishima had to take the fall alone. Despite being cheated on by her lover, in a sense, she was not able to get over the man until she found a different sort of love for sumo wrestling. From the beginning, Kunishima maintained that she was writing the article on Ensho only because she had to in order to continue at the same news agency. It was clear that she would leave the sports desk any moment she was given a chance, but this gradually changed over time. Kunishima develops an interest in the sport and then also in our protagonist wrestler, Enno, for whom she starts to feel romantically inclined. Nothing significant happens between the two, though, and Enno is probably not even aware of the fact that the journalist has a liking for him, but Kunishima instead chooses to help everyone at the Ensho stable train better. As soon as the woman goes through this change of heart regarding the sport of sumo wrestling, her personal struggles get much easier too. In the end, Kunishima enjoys her time working the sports desk as much as anyone else, and she does not care about promotions and positional goals, nor does she care about the man who deceived her.

Shizuuchi, the exceptionally silent but fiercely powerful sumo wrestler, carries with him the burden of grief and guilt. As a young boy, he had seen his mother kill his brother and then commit suicide, and Shizuuchi never processed the loss inside his mind. He had blindly tried to move on with his life, which had worked inadvertently, and Shizuuchi lost all social skills. The man not talking to anyone—roommates, fans, or haters—complicated his situation further, as he had no friends at all. The process of healing that the wrestler finally goes through is largely because of his return to his native home in Rausu, Hokkaido, and the visit itself is triggered by Yasui blackmailing him about his past. Yasui’s demand is that Shizuuchi intentionally lose his fight against Enno, and so the wrestler’s healing is again somehow linked with sumo in an indirect fashion.

The only exception, where sumo does not help the situation but further complicates things, is the case of Ryuki, who does not want to be a sumo wrestler at all. However, Ryuki is forced and tied to this life forever, owing to the fact that his father is a strict yokozuna named Ryubu. The dynamics in this family are quite troublesome, as the father is a horrible patriarch who only cares about his fame and respect. Now that he is beyond the age of being inside the dohyo ring and is the representative of his family, Ryubu wants to carry forward his legacy through his son, Ryuki. No matter how broken down and appalled Ryuki is by sumo wrestling, he cannot question or go against his father and move away from the sport. Such a step would lead to public humiliation for Ryuki, as it does after he agrees that some traditional elements in the sport need to change, and immediate disowning by his father, so Ryuki sticks on. Ultimately, the man loses his relationship with his mother as well because of the sport of sumo wrestling.

Other minor characters in the Ensho stable can also be used as examples of individuals who find themselves through the sport of sumo wrestling. Enya is an extremely skilled and hardworking wrestler who has always had a promising career, but he is nearing the end of his time inside the ring and suffers from a serious knee injury. Despite trying to make comebacks in the sport, Enya cannot do so and ultimately has to give in to the advice of doctors, who tell him to stop wrestling in order to give his knee a chance to survive. In the end, Enya throws in the towel and retires from the sport, much to his disappointment and grief. But Enya realizes that he needs to give time to his family now and focus more on a healthy life than accolades and wrestling achievements. The timid and frail Shimizu had always wanted to be a sumo wrestler but quickly realized that the extreme physical exertion and pressure were not something he could handle. However, Shimizu did not want to leave the sport altogether and therefore became an usher for the Ensho stable. Having then found his best-suited skills and interests, Shimizu shows potential for even becoming an analyst of the sport while expressing interest in becoming an announcer during matches. On the other hand, the bully, Enga, also learns that his harsh attitude towards his peers is no longer a match for the inspiration that Enno was providing them. Having always felt the need to be surrounded by people at all times, Enga now decides to become a follower of Enno’s training routine and thus learns about true teamwork.

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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