When Herzl (Itzik Cohen) – a shy salad bar chef who weighs 155 kilos – loses his job, he starts working as a dishwasher in a Japanese restaurant in Ramla. Here, Herzl discovers the world of Sumo where large people are honoured and appreciated. Through Kitano (Togo Igawa), the petite owner of the Japanese restaurant and former Sumo coach in Japan, Herzl falls in love with a sport involving "two fatsos in diapers and girly hairdos". Convincing his heavyweight pals Aharon (Dvir Benedek), Sami (Shmulik Cohen) and Gidi (Alon Dahan) to join him, the foursome embark on a journey to self-acceptance. Herzl wants Kitano to be their coach but Kitano is reluctant – they first have to earn their spurs.
AICE ISRAELI FILM FESTIVAL: If you had to choose between being thin and miserable or fat and relatively happy, what would you do? The four overgrown men at the centre of this sweet, poignant Israeli film opt for the latter course with amusing consequences.
Directors Sharon Maymon and Erez Tadmor go for some cheap laughs in having the foursome train for and compete in a sumo wrestling tournament, but A Matter of Size has its tender and dramatic moments as it explores the relationships between the guys and their teacher, wife, girlfriend and mother.
The script by Maymon and Danny Cohen-Solal offers few belly laughs, despite the preponderance of jiggling flesh, but sufficient gentle humour to sustain its 90 minutes. The underlying message for each character may be: Love me for who I am, not my body.
The main protagonist is 35-year-old Herzl (Itzik Cohen), a sad sack who lives with his insensitive mother (Levana Finkelstein) in the city of Ramla. Mum constantly nags him about his obesity and he gets kicked out of the local weight-losers club for being a bad example to the others. After losing his job as a salad bar chef, he starts work as a kitchen hand at a Japanese restaurant, where he discovers sumo wrestling.
Herzl decides to form a sumo wrestling club with his best mates Aharon (Dvir Benedek), Gidi (Alon Dahan) and Sami (Shmulik Cohen), and asks the restaurant’s owner Kitano (The Last Samurai’s Togo Igawa), a former professional sumo referee, to act as their coach, this film’s equivalent of Mr Miyagi in the original version of The Karate Kid.
There’s an interesting back-story to two of Herzl’s friends. Macho plumber Aharon hasn’t had sex with his wife for six months and suspects she’s having an affair. Gidi is gay, hasn’t come out of the closet, and searches for mates online, where he discovers chubby guys are regarded as attractive in the gay scene, known as 'bears.’ The least well-developed is Sami, a video journalist.
Despite his mum’s disapproval, romance blossoms between Herzl and fellow weight-watcher Zehava (Irit Kaplan), a divorcee who, like him, has self-esteem issues. In one comical sequence as they’re about to flop into bed for the first time, she says, 'I hope you don’t like having sex in the dark." No, he replies, after which they keep tussling for the light switch.
Herzl hides from Zehava the fact that he’s training for the sumo tournament, thus risking their relationship. Who wins the tournament? It scarcely matters, for as the wise Kitano declares, 'Losing with honour is more important than winning."
The acting is uniformly good, a remarkable piece of casting in finding four thespians in Israel who are convincing as sumo wrestlers. For an extremely large man, Itzik Cohen brings a surprising warmth and sensitivity to the role of Herzl. Kaplan is endearing as a woman for whom over-eating had become an automatic response to an unhappy life.
There’s one jarring note: In a flashback, eight-year-old Herzl laughs when his overweight father dies in front of him. Oh, and apart from that, there’s no reference to the risk of heart attack, diabetes, cancer and other diseases caused by obesity.