The Japanese have a thing for losers. As chronicled by the famed scholar Ivan Morris, Japan’s greatest historical heroes are notable for their utter lack of success, immortalized only after their goals have been thwarted, their dreams crushed. This is because, in the Japanese ethos, there is far more dignity in remaining true to a lost cause than in sacrificing one’s principles for worldly gain. The Japanese hero fights without hope, and dies without regret. He is a legend precisely because he is doomed.
There is a strain of the Japanese fetish for failure in “The Shining Star of Losers Everywhere,” a new 30-for-30 documentary from ESPN directed by Mickey Duzyj. It is about Haru Urara (which translates as Glorious Spring), a racehorse that became famous throughout the country in the early 2000s for his inability to win a single race. Haru Urara manages to inspire thousands—and to save his struggling hometown racetrack in Kochi—by always giving his all, despite the literal odds against him. And whereas the fate of the archetypal Japanese hero usually ends up being pretty grim (ritual suicide, etc.), Haru Urara lives to helm what turns out to be an inspiring, charming tale.
At one point, a PR flak for the racetrack says, “I don’t know if a story about losing is so good.” But in Japan, sometimes there’s no better kind.