a three hour baseball movie might sound like bizarre overkill, but it is still
considerably brisker than many of Al Leiter’s outings for the Mets (we’re all
fans here, by the way). It is long, but this scrappy underdog story of
tolerance and resilience generally makes good use of its time. Taiwanese and
Japanese players will indeed come together on the diamond in Umin Boya’s Kano (trailer here), the centerpiece
selection of this year’s New York Asian Film Festival, which screens tomorrow,
so forget that World Cup noise.
the spectacular revolt dramatized in co-writer-producer Wei Te-sheng’s Warriors of the Rainbow: Sediq Bale, Japan
has consolidated its imperialist hold on Taiwan. Despite the increasing (but
unequal) economic ties between the two countries, Taiwan is not where the
Japanese go when their careers are on the way up. However, for tightly wound
account Hyotaro Kondo, it represents a chance to start over following a vaguely
defined public humiliation. Yet, against his better judgment, Kondo soon
volunteers to coach the Kagi Agriculture and Forestry Public School’s high
school baseball team (called Kano for short).
was Kondo’s intense coaching style that led to so much grief in Japan, but he has
never had a team like this. For one thing, it is an ethnically mixed squad,
consisting not just of Japanese and Taiwanese players, but aboriginal and
Chinese students as well. They also receive next to no material support from
their school. Still, Akira Go, the kid on the mound, has a monster arm.
Everyone scoffs when Kondo vows to take the team to Koshien, Japan’s national high
school tournament, especially given their ‘O-fer record, but guess what happens
its incontrovertible status as a sports movie, Kano neatly sidesteps a number of the genre clichés. The big game
will duly choke you up, but in a far more satisfying way than you expect. Coach
Kondo even says there is no crying in baseball, but good luck with that.
Nagase is truly the coach of all movie coaches as the strict but fiercely loyal
Kondo. He commands the screen just like Kondo commands his players, but when he
lets his softy paternal side peak through, it is always heavy. Oddly, perhaps
the most distinctive supporting turn amongst the players is actually Ken Aoki as
rival pitcher Hiromi Joshiya, whose trip to see Kano’s dirt playing field for
himself while on leave from the Imperial Army supplies the film’s framing
device. British based Japanese actor Togo Igawa also adds a note of gruff
dignity as Kondo’s former mentor, Coach Sato.
designer Makoto Asano’s recreation of 1931 provincial Taiwan looks so real you
can practically taste the mud and thatch. It is a high quality period
production and probably the most epic baseball movie ever thanks to
cinematographer Chin Ting-chang’s sweeping, wide screen visuals. Yet, the
on-field camaraderie is not simply a good lesson in sportsmanship. It looks
like a conscious attempt at Taiwanese-Japanese rapprochement , strategically
coming at a time of high Mainland saber rattling (and frankly that is probably
not a bad impulse to act on).
does not feel like it runs anywhere near its three hours, but there is no
getting the generous helpings of baseball. As great as Nagase is, Kano’s appeal will probably be limited
to fans of the game (which includes just about everyone in Taiwan judging from
its domestic box-office). Earnest, entertaining, and appealingly old fashioned,
Kano is recommended for lovers of
baseball and those who follow Japanese and Taiwanese cinema when it screens tomorrow evening (6/29) at the
Walter Reade Theater, as the centerpiece of this year’s NYAFF.
Labels: Baseball, NYAFF '14, Sports films, Taiwanese Cinema