Who knew Japan still made such nice films? Okay, so perhaps that’s a little unfair: probably the nice films just don’t travel as well. Having seen this one, I’m afraid I can kind of understand why. I have to admit baseball arouses an apathy in me surpassed only by soccer, so you’ll have to take my bias on that count into consideration.
Minami, Kazuya and Tatsuya are childhood friends, and remain so into their teenage years in spite of the fact that the brothers inevitably become rivals for the winsome Minami’s affections. All three of the main characters succeed in a different sport. Minami is a dancer and Tatsuya is an amateur boxer, but only Kazuya really excels in the trio’s first love, baseball, as a pitcher.
The first half of the film involves a lot of moody pouting as the brothers try to one-up each other on their respective levels of intimacy with Minami (“I kissed her… on the forehead”). This goes on until a tragedy unexpectedly, or maybe expectedly, makes Minami’s decision for her: Kazuya is killed when (I’m not making this up) he saves a small boy from being hit by a truck, bears the terrible trucky brunt himself, and ends up a surprisingly good-looking corpse.
Was that a spoiler? Not really. The real story of the movie involves Tatsuya’s struggle to live out the trio’s dream of participating in a national baseball tournament by playing in his dead brother’s stead, and to overcome his guilt and a considerable inferiority complex in order to declare his true feelings for Minami. The final act rounds the bases of every imaginable sporting movie cliché, including the lovable group of older-generation well-wishers gathered in a café somewhere watching The Big Game on a small TV. Does it even matter if the team wins? The grand tradition of baseball movies says no: he’s a winner either way!
As ordinary a film as this is, it is sort of nice (there’s that n-word again) to see something so wide-eyed and innocent from Japan. It’s too well meaning to be plainly detestable, and it’s certainly slick, colourful and well made. But that doesn’t change the simple fact that, were this an American movie, we’d laugh it off the screen without a moment’s reflection.