Sunday, April 6, 2014

Battlefield Baseball (aka: Jigoku Kôshien)




(2003) Directed by: Yudai Yamaguchi; Written by: Yudai Yamaguchi and Isao Kiriyama; Based on the manga by: Gatarô Man; Starring: Tak Sakaguchi, Atsushi Itô and Hideo Sakaki; Available on DVD

Rating: ** ½

“In baseball you can never win on your own.  The Most important thing is the teamwork, the friendship!  Friendship gave me power!” – Jubei (Tak Sakaguchi)


Many thanks to fellow fan of the obscure, Todd of ForgottenFilms for inviting me to participate in the Big League Blogathon, which celebrates the myriad cinematic interpretations of baseball.  When the gauntlet was thrown, I gladly accepted, but was left with the task of finding a title that would reflect that certain je ne sais quoi spirit of my blog.  My choice, Battlefield Baseball, probably wouldn’t be the first (or 25th) movie that would spring to mind, but that’s okay.  This is why I’m here, and we’re going to get through this together.
 

Since the sport’s introduction in the late 19th century, Japan has enjoyed an enduring love affair with baseball.  It’s become a national obsession, perhaps second only to sumo wrestling in popularity.  The film begins with the caption: “This movie is dedicated to all those who love baseball.”  It’s too bad that what follows bears little resemblance to the beloved sport, leading me to wonder if the statement was meant to be ironic.  With Battlefield Baseball’s apocalyptic, anarchic tone, first-time director and co-writer Yudai Yamaguchi isn’t doing the sport any favors.


Like many sports films, Battlefield Baseball features a protagonist with phenomenal talent and a tortured past.  Jubei (Tak Sakaguchi) has a killer pitch – literally, and has vowed never to play again.  We learn about his tragic history, told in song, in which young Jubei accidentally kills his father with a fastball.  Of course, this wouldn’t be much of a story if he held to his vow, and it’s not long before he decides to join the Seido High School team, and help fight their dreaded archrivals.  The Gedo High School* team consists of gray-skinned (zombie?) thugs with no respect for the rules.  Only Jubei and his super tornado pitch stand in the way of Gedo dominating the upcoming Kashien Stadium Tournament.   

* The “high school” players in this movie appear to have been out of high school for at least a decade.


Although some of the film’s transgressions can be attributed to a miniscule budget, this doesn’t excuse the fact that most of it’s a mess, favoring a random bunch of scattered gags over coherence.  Except for a short practice scene towards the beginning of the film, anyone with the most rudimentary knowledge of baseball will probably be left scratching his or her head about why we never see anyone playing anything resembling baseball. We never see evidence of any other teams, or spectators for the games (and I’m using “games” very loosely).  Instead, we’re treated to a series of cartoonish scenes of carnage that evoke comparisons to the superior Battle Royale.  I suppose the two teams are supposed to represent good versus evil, but taking into account the film’s twisted logic, the Seido team just seem obtuse.  If they know they’re in a life-or-death tournament where their opponents are out for blood, why are they prepared to play a conventional game?  None of this is ever explained – we’re just expected to accept it at face value. 


Battlefield Baseball wins points for originality, but due to sloppy execution (to borrow a baseball metaphor) never quite hits it out of the park. In this case, the baseball theme is merely incidental.  The sport could likely have been changed to wrestling, hockey, or any other sport, with few changes.  With the right take on the concept, the film might have worked.   It works in spots, but at the end of the day I wanted more baseball in my baseball movie.

2 comments:

  1. It unfortunately doesn't have the heart or laughs of a Shaolin Soccer. Still a fun movie though. Nice review!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Kev! My thoughts, exactly. Just think what someone like Stephen Chow, or even Minoru Kawasaki, could have done with the material.

      Delete