What is Sanctuary about? Netflix sumo series explained

Daisy Phillipson
A poster for Sanctuary on Netflix

Take your position in the ring, as Sanctuary, the new series about the gritty underbelly of professional sumo wrestling, is a hit on Netflix – here’s what it’s about, who’s in the cast, and if it’s worth watching. 

Netflix has been ramping up its global spending to reflect its international viewership and showcase creative minds from around the world. Last month, the streamer announced plans to invest $2.5 billion into creating Korean content for the platform.

Japan is another major focus, with the entertainment powerhouse delivering the likes of First Love, The Makanai: Cooking in the Maiko House, and Alice in Borderland, which have made waves with Netflix audiences worldwide.

With Sanctuary going down a storm with fans on Netflix, here’s everything you need to know.

What is Sanctuary about?

Hailed by writer Tomoki Kanazawa and director Kan Eguchi, Sanctuary is an eight-episode sports drama that “breaks a taboo that has existed since ancient times and illustrates the ambition and fighting spirit of uncouth yet all so real sumo wrestlers.”

Check out the trailer below:

As per the official synopsis: “A juvenile delinquent becomes a sumo apprentice and finds himself on a collision course with a voiceless wrestler carrying a secret.” 

The logline describes Sanctuary as “a gritty look into the underbelly of professional sumo, a world full of young men with ambitions for money, women, fame, and power.” It adds: “This is the story in sumo ring where there is a sanctuary with a history of more than 1,500 years in Japan’s traditional culture and as a religious ceremony.”

Eguchi is best known for movies such as Riding Uphill, which also deals with men who are living on the edge as they attempt to achieve their dreams, and The Fable, about an elite gun-for-hire whose newly peaceful life is disrupted. Meanwhile, Kanazawa wrote the screenplay for the hit TV drama series Get Ready! and Hanzawa Naoki.

Netflix went on to say: “These creators will bring us a tale of unprecedented vigor, depicting the ambitions, fighting spirit, struggles, determination, and joy of sumo wrestlers, as well as the beauty of sumo.”

Sanctuary cast: Who’s in it?

Netflix’s Sanctuary cast includes: 

  • Wataru Ichinose as Kiyoshi Oze, aka Enno
  • Shota Sometani as Shimizu
  • Shiori Kutsuna as Asuka
  • Pierre Taki as Oyakata
  • Koyuki as Hana
  • Goro Kishitani as Oyakata Ryukoku
  • Tomorowo Taguchi as Tokitsu
  • Suzuki Matsuo as Oyakata Inushima
  • Akira Nakao as Kumada
  • Nobuko Sendo as Yayoi
  • Takashi Sasano as Ito

In order to depict the sumo wrestlers’ abilities and prowess, all of the actors who portray the team of athletes went through “intense physical training” for months under the tutelage of Hollywood experts and a coach and nutritionist for Olympic competitors. 

Elaborating on the cast and characters, Netflix said: “Wataru Ichinose will be the lead by winning the role after his terrific audition and his past experience as a professional martial artist.” He plays Enno, who “uses his impressive physique and gift for martial arts to join a sumo stable as a young disciple, although his eye is only on money, not the sport itself.”

The supporting cast includes Pierre Taki, playing the sumo stable master who accepts Enno as his student, Koyuki as the stable master’s wife, and Shota Sometani as Shimizu, a young wrestler and Enno’s only friend.

Is Sanctuary worth watching?

Although there’s no critics score on Rotten Tomatoes, Sanctuary already has a respectable 86% audience rating from Netflix viewers. 

There are a number of positive reviews, with Decider saying it’s worth a stream. “While Sanctuary moves a bit slowly at times, it’s a fascinating look inside sumo wrestling that should be of interest to anyone who has an interest in Japanese sports culture,” it wrote.

Sportskeeda added: “The series has an excellent blend of sports activities and the culture related to it. Thus, without a shred of doubt, the writing is one of the biggest highlights of the series and makes it a watch-worthy experience.”

Of the less favorable reviews, Collider said that while the fights are interesting to watch, “there would need to be a serious refocusing on what the show wants to be moving forward in order to avoid the meandering feeling of several episodes.”

If you want to decide for yourself, all eight episodes of Sanctuary are now available to stream on Netflix. You can check out our other Netflix hubs below: 

The Sandman Season 2 | Stranger Things Season 5 | The Witcher Season 3 | Squid Game Season 2 | Wednesday Season 2 | Extraction 2 | Murder Mystery 3 | Gears of War movie | Cobra Kai Season 6

About The Author

Daisy is a Senior TV and Movies Writer at Dexerto. She's a lover of all things macabre, whether that be horror, crime, psychological thrillers or all of the above. After graduating with a Masters in Magazine Journalism, she's gone on to write for Digital Spy, LADbible and Little White Lies. You can contact her on daisy.phillipson@dexerto.com