While boxing movies vary in story and approach, most follow an arc leading from hard training and setbacks to a climactic bout that decides everything. Sho Miyake’s “Small, Slow but Steady” subverts that arc, however, as well as cliched genre tropes. Based on the autobiography of a deaf female professional boxer, the film’s focus is less on blood-flecked pugilism and more on outside-the-ring drama, including the protagonist’s struggle with her own reasons for fighting.
And, yes, there is a big, final bout, but those expecting knock-down-drag-out theatrics will be disappointed. “Rocky,” this film is not. And yet it is quietly moving in its examination of human fragility without being pessimistic about human resilience.
We first meet Keiko (Yukino Kishii) in December 2020, when she has already turned pro and won her first bout. She is in the midst of training for her next fight while dealing with her brother and roommate Seiji (Himi Sato), who is behind in his rent and skeptical about her choice of profession. To keep herself financially afloat, Keiko works as a cleaner at a luxury hotel. So far, it’s a typical storyline since a boxing movie protagonist without personal headwinds doesn’t exist.