Tuesday, March 05, 2013

This Week In Tickets: 25 February 2013 - 3 March 2013

Thought it was going to be busier, but there was baseball to watch. Baseball! On television! That makes ignoring snow outside easy!

This Week in Tickets

Stubless: Stoker, Brattle Theatre, at 7pm on 28 February 2013.

I honestly meant to take in more Park Chan-wook stuff at the Brattle last week, but the late-ish show time on Monday made it difficult to overcome inertia to see Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance at 9:30, and though I was already there after "Kokoyakyu" on Tuesday, I didn't feel like hanging around for an hour and, besides, work the next day. Ah, well, I've got them all on Blu-ray, so I can give them another viewing another time. Wouldn't quite have been the same as seeing them on 35mm, which is one of the reasons why I was glad to get to the preview of Stoker.

I originally intended to see more first-run stuff over the weekend, but I opted to watch both a spring training and World Baseball Classic game Friday night, and then when I was done hanging around with my brother and grocery shopping on Sunday, well, did I really need to see The Last Exorcism Part II? No, I don't think I did. Jack the Giant Slayer and Phantom made a pretty nice ad-hoc double feature, though - neither great movies, but enjoyable, especially when you're not laying out a whole lot of cash for them specifically.

Which leaves us with one last little ticket on the page, "Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball'. I actually got a heads up on that one from my Japanese teacher at Boston Language Institute emailing me - a nice thing to do, as I was not a particularly good student (and a ton of what I've learned is just gone now - lack of opportunity to practice has really hurt me). She'd never been to the Brattle before, despite being in Boston for a while, and seemed interested when hearing about the range of things that played there. That seemed to be the case with a lot of the folks attending, especially those in education; hopefully, they'll come more often, especially now that they're going to be putting some upgrades in.

The screening was for a group called "Primary Source", which mainly looks to connect educators with material that will help them bring the world to their students. Thus, this documentary that originally aired on PBS's P.O.V. series back in 2006. While I half-suspect that Japan isn't nearly the sort of strange, mysterious place it was to me growing up - a guy living in suburban Maine didn't see much manga, anime, and proudly Japanese videogames in the 1980s, especially compared to WWII in history class - but this is probably a pretty good way to introduce kids to Japanese culture; it's familiar but also quite different.

(Especially here in New England, where we like the baseball; perhaps you noticed that from the rest of the post?)

"Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 February 2013 in The Brattle Theatre (Primary Source, video)

High school baseball is kind of a big deal in Japan, especially the annual koshien tournament. How big? Imagine high school football in Texas, only there's a nationally televised single-elimination tournament that has been played since 1915 and gets the same sort of national attention as the NCAA Basketball tourney does in the USA. "Kokoyakyu" is a relatively rare behind-the-scenes look at the high school baseball culture, and a fairly enjoyable one.

The movie follows two high school teams in the Osaka prefecture - Tennoji, a public school whose coach Masa sees this as a class for developing its players as men, and Chiben, a private academy known as a baseball powerhouse whose coach Takashima played in koshien as a boy and has brought his team to the promised land before. Both feature long hour of practice year-round, dedicated players, managers, and cheering sections, and, of course, a shared dream, although only one can win the six consecutive games they must to represent the prefecture in the national tournament.

Director Kenneth Eng opts to spend most of his time as a fly on the wall, capturing the daily routines and pressures of the teams rather than spending a lot of time on interviews or filling the audience in on the history of baseball in Japan. There's little time for the rest, as the documentary had to fit in a one-hour PBS timeslot, but the focus works to the movie's advantage - by not setting up comparison to American institutions or practices, or questioning their subjects much beyond acquiring information, Eng and writer Alexander Shear let the audience have its own reactions and form its own opinions.

It's entertaining and enlightening to watch, though I did occasionally wonder if some of the more intense bits were held back or kept out of the filmmakers sight (other accounts of Japanese high school ball describe a win-at-all-costs pressure we don't quite see here). The strong emotions and occasionally blunt assessments of not just the players but the highly-organized cheer sections are often as surprising as they are intriguing, with great contrasts between the two environments, It's also quite clear that Eng and Shear love baseball itself; the games are not just edited for suspense, but with a fan's eye. You're not just watching a movie, but also watching baseball.

SPOILERS! They're also an example of how baseball is fairly unpredictable at the individual game level, as neither team makes it to koshien. While that may have been disappointing for the filmmakers at the time, it winds up working for the movie: Instead of being an underdog story, or look at how the big guys win, it just becomes about the game itself, which will break the hearts of most but is beautiful even without a trophy being hoisted - and the scenes of the players being graceful in defeat even after being so intensely competitive tell us something vital about the character of this game in this country. !SRELIOPS

Sure, that result leaves the audience missing some of what they might have watched for, and there's plenty that would have been interesting to explore if there had been more time. For instance, it was a big deal when someone received the number 18, presumably because it represented being the last person to make the cut for the tournament roster and thus being considered a leader, and I wondered if there was meaning to Daisuke Matsuzaka wearing it with the Red Sox that I had missed these past five years. Then again, I figure it's a good thing if a doc like this makes one want to learn more - and there's certainly more to learn!

Jack the Giant Slayer

No comments: