Last time I promised a gore-fest of a column, but instead of all that simulated blood and guts (and oh yes, there will be blood) I decided to tap into a couple films that fall into the sports drama… sort of.
The first in our line-up roughly fits the sports template, or as closely as Japanese cinema tends to get. Ping Pong, a film about two members of Katase High School table tennis club, is a fun and irreverent film that takes the world of red paddles and green tables more seriously than all but the most die-hard fans on our side of the Pacific would ever dream of.
Based on a manga of the same name (A large portion of films seemed to be based on either a manga, anime or novel), Ping Pong features two table tennis rivals, and well-matched foils for our movie: Hoshino (nicknamed Smile, ironically) and Tsukimoto (or Peco, or Mr. Peco, as instructs others to call him). Like any movie foils, the two couldn’t be different. Peco dreams of being a table tennis star, and hones his chops by taking on college players and trouncing them (trash-talking them all the while). Smile, who possesses the most talent on the team, is quiet, never smiles (hence the nickname) and seemingly could care less about table tennis (“I just do this to kill time,” he admits to Peco). Peco always beats Smile, though it’s clear that Smile is letting him win, as he beats opponents who trounce Peco.
Other competitors enter the scene as well, and as is to be expected from Japanese culture, they’re every bit as colorful and well-rounded as one might expect. Dragon, the disciplinarian leader of Tsujido Academy, and his henchman Demon offer adversity for Smile and Peco, and a mysterious recruit from China (recruited to take out Dragon — I said they take this seriously, didn’t I) enters the scene to complicate the winner’s bracket.
If all of this sounds a little crazy for a table tennis movie, just wait — it gets wackier. The Katase high school coach is obsessed with training Smile, to the point that he plays a game of table tennis against himself pretending he’s playing against Smile when he doesn’t show up for a training session. Demon at one point becomes so furious after a loss that he beats the hell out of someone he bumps into on the street. And Peco goes through the classic “lose, walk away from the sport/regain confidence/re-train” montage, at one point symbolically burning his beloved paddle, growing his hair out (in place of the Dumb and Dumber-style bowl cut) and spending his time harassing fruitless suitors of Smile’s.
The film ultimately has a good ending, culminating with a match pitting Smile against Peco, Smile finally determined to play Peco at full strength. The movie ends with a nice epilogue letting you know the outcome without showing the actual match.
Check it out if: You like Japanese wackiness mixed with heartwarming vibrant characters.
The next film fits the sports theme only in the loosest sense because it’s a movie about a bunch of baseball players — though they don’t seem to spend much time playing the sport. Kisarazu Cat’s Eye is based on a TV drama of the same name, about a group of thieves who all played baseball together in high school and spend their young adult lives searching for beer, playing baseball searching out women in Korean-style hook-up bars. Their group, Cat’s Eye (Kisarazu is their hometown, in the Tokyo area) is based on a manga about a group of female thieves who ditch their normal daytime lives to pull heists at night. Got all that so far?
Oddly, in the film version they never put on a baseball uniform or grab a glove, and don’t seem to ever steal anything (in the first ten minutes of the drama, it should be noted, they do both). They do, however, drink a lot of beer and their band (named Kisarazu Cat’s Eye, same as the baseball team and the thieving group) plays at the beginning (badly) and at the end (much more skilled).
What proceeds, then, is quite possibly one of the most random and bizarre movies I’ve ever loved. If one was to draw a plotline for this film, the result would be a multi-colored child’s scribble. The main protagonist, Bussan, has cancer, and dies several times throughout the film. Their homeless mascot, Ozzy, walks out of the sea naked to the group’s surprise, since he’d been murdered a year past. Oh, and there’s some plot involving the Yakuza and the Korean nightclub, and at one point they are swept out to sea and marooned on an island of Amazonian Japanese women, who agree to feed them one crab for each time they have sex with one of them.
The film can’t seem to decide whether it’s a stop-the-bad-guy adventure, a love drama, a musical comedy or a heist flick — and oddly isn’t worse for its indecision. I spent the first half-an-hour of this film with the WTF look on my face, and was about to turn it off, when I started chuckling. Then I started laughing. Rolling on the floor laughing. Kisarazu Cat’s Eye is not only random, but it builds on its randomness, until it’s so funny one can’t take it. By the end of this film, when the Cat’s started singing their theme I was right there with them. Hook, line and sinker. If random was an art form, screen-writer Kankuro Kudo is Picasso.
Check it out: If Japanese randomness tickles your funny bone and you find yourself youtubing random Japanese videos.
Next time, I think we might finally get to that gore review, if I can finally stomach it! Ja ne!