underdog 1930s team is sort of like the New York Cubans and other early African
American baseball teams. Everyone loves them now, but they faced constant struggles
in their day. However, the titular community team organized by the sons of
Japanese immigrants actually played against white Canadian clubs in an
otherwise all-white league. Life will be a challenge for them on and off the
diamond in Yuya Ishii’s The Vancouver
which screens as part of the 2015 Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Film.
Kasahara works tirelessly at the lumberyard, but he dreams big when it comes to
baseball. Unfortunately, the Asahi have never won a game. They are simply over
matched by the big, beefy maple syrup-swilling Canadians’ power hitting and
fastballs. Nonetheless, Kasahara must take some responsibility for strategy
when he unexpectedly ascends to the team captainship. On the second game of the
season, he experiments with bunt-and-run small ball, shocking everyone by
scoring a run.
the Asahi are regularly winning games with what the local papers call their “Brain
Ball” approach. After years of futility, the team finally becomes a source of
pride in the Japanese immigrant community. They will need something positive to
cheer, considering how the swirling clouds of war will further complicate their
lives of economic marginalization.
Asahi follows a very predictable
story line, but it is refreshing to see Canada take its lumps for change after
all their tongue-clucking at the U.S. Yes, there is plenty of discrimination
documented in the film, but it is richer and more challenging when it explores
the assimilation experience, for which there can be no better example than
their passion for the game of baseball.
sad and nostalgic tone is somewhat reminiscent of Ishii’s previous film, The Great Passage, but its characters
are not quite as distinctly drawn as those in Ishii’s reference publishing
drama. Reggie and his pals basically work hard and play hard, enduring all that
comes their way. However, his younger sister Emmy is a deeper, more complicated
figure, who truly strives to integrate into the Canadian society that never
truly accepts her.
and screenwriter Satoko Okudera are not exactly subtle when making their
points. Still, it is a painstakingly detailed period production. It also captures
a sense of just how significant baseball was in the 1930s. It is almost
inspiring to watch the Asahi’s scrappy style of play win over the white Anglo
Canadians, even though we know it will all be undone by the WWII internment.
All the Asahi players look like they are young
and hungry, starting with the wiry Satoshi Tsumabuki as Reggie Kasahara. Yet,
it is Mitsuki Takahata and Koichi Sato who really elevate the film as his
studious sister and rough-hewn father, respectively. Ultimately, it is an
earnest and endearing film that wears its tragic fate with dignity. Recommended
for fans of old fashioned baseball dramas, The
Vancouver Asahi screens this Saturday (7/11) at the Japan Society, as part
of this year’s Japan Cuts.
Labels: Baseball, Japan Cuts '15, Japanese Cinema