Takeru Kobayashi, the world’s former No. 1 competitive eater, dubbed “The Tsunami” and “The Japanese Eating Machine,” made national headlines when he was arrested and thrown in jail for trespassing at the 95th Annual Nathan’s Famous International Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest in 2010.
After a bitter contract dispute with Major League Eating, the six-time Mustard Belt champ — who rose to fame in 2001 when he broke the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest world record — was forever banned from competing in the contest he helped popularize.
That summer, Barry Rothbart, a young actor, comedian and budding filmmaker from Forest Hills, teamed up with longtime friend Jeff Cerulli, a fellow comic from Astoria, and delve further into Kobi’s battle with MLE.
The creative directors embarked on an amazing adventure, one that would take them into the colorful realm of gastro sporting events and resulted in a film they aptly called “Hungry,” premiering at the NY’s Documentary Festival Midnight Movies.
“We just thought it was a funny world and loved documentaries, so we turned on the camera,” Rothbart said. “It started to write itself based on what we saw: a world of very motivated people who have put their motivation into something unusual. Then when Kobayashi made national news after being arrested, we said, ‘There’s something here.’”
Reports claimed that Kobayashi — wearing his “Free Kobi” shirt — rushed the stage minutes after archrival Joey “Jaws” Chestnut gulped down 54 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes, and claimed victory.
“They make you sign a contract and then limit nearly everything you do — like competing in other contests — and don’t pay you fairly,” Rothbart said. “Kobayashi tried to negotiate a better contract to make fair money, and they kicked him out of the league.”
The filmmaker recalled Kobayashi telling him, “They treated me like a marionette. Competitive eating is my life; in this organization I couldn’t earn anything.”
Shot on location in New York City, Buffalo, New Jersey, Philadelphia and California, “Hungry” enters the eating arena during Kobayashi’s arrest and scuffle with police, chronicling his beef with MLE, and culminating with a spectacular event on a Manhattan rooftop one year later.
While Chestnut gulped 62 in 10 minutes at the 2011 Nathan’s July Fourth Contest in Coney Island, Kobi crushed Chestnut’s world record from afar — at his very own grand eat-off — where he pounded down 69 HDBs to the tune of hundreds of excited fans chanting,” Kobi! Kobi!”
“Kobayashi is like an artist. He’s soft spoken, but there’s infinite intensity in his eyes,” said Rothbart fondly.
When: Nov. 16 at 11:45 p.m.
Where: IFC Center, 323 Avenue of the Americas, Manhattan