Battlefield Baseball (Jigoku kôshien) [DVD]
Director : Yudai Yamaguchi
Screenplay : Gatarô Man
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 2003
Stars : Tak Sakaguchi (Jubeh), Atsushi Ito (Megane), Hideo Sakaki (Hôichi)
Battlefield Baseball (Jigoku kôshien) is an absurd mess of a movie, but one that wallows so exuberantly in its silliness that it’s hard not to get caught up in the vibe. It’s a goofy patchwork of martial arts, zombie horror, slapstick comedy, insipid pop ballads, and sports clichés. The opening title card informs us that the film is dedicated to everyone who loves baseball, and there is clear sense of affection for the sport even as it is parodied and lampooned into a bizarre spectacle of violence and mayhem. In fact, now that I think about it, there is virtually no baseball played in the movie -- although plenty of bats are used in ways for which they were not intended.
The screenplay, penned by first-timer Gatarô Man based on his popular manga series, has little in the way of rhyme or reason or logic, which establishes the perfect backdrop for the movie’s bizarre antics, which are directed with a flair for the outrageous by fellow first-timer Yudai Yamaguchi, whose claim to fame is cowriting the Japanese cult hit Versus (2000). Yamaguchi is clearly emulating both the logic-defying visual pleasures of anime and the crude special-effects gore of gleefully low-brow horror films like Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1982) and Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste (1985) and Braindead (1989). He has an absurd sense of style and willingness to try almost anything.
The main characters are students at Seido High School, whose dreams of a championship are destroyed by the rival team from Gedo High. For reasons that are never offered, the Gedo High team is populated entirely with Mad Max-like blue-faced zombies who have free reign on the baseball diamond to literally demolish their opponents, leaving the field strewn with dismembered body parts. We never actually see them play baseball or their violent version of it; it’s only the aftermath that counts.
Seido’s only hope is a brooding teen rebel with a murky past named Jubeh. Jubeh is played by Tak Sakaguchi, who made his debut in Versus and whose recent elevation to major heartthrob status in Japan is not too surprising. With his long hair and boyishly handsome scowl, Sakaguchi resembles no one so much as Johnny Depp, especially since he’s playing the attractive outcast. Jubeh’s amazingly powerful “Super Tornado Pitch,” which caused a tragic death in his family many years earlier, is the only thing that can help Seido defeat Gedo -- although, given the purposeful narrative shoddiness, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that the movie never follows through on this plot device.
But, I digress. One doesn’t watch Battlefield Baseball for narrative cohesion and character development. Rather, you’re looking for wild martial arts fights, goofy physical humor, and maybe a few silly pop-music numbers. Battlefield Baseball isn’t a complete success in that it never quite makes good on the inanity of its premise, but the fact that it comes tantalizingly close makes it at least a notable curiosity piece.
|Battlefield Baseball Special Edition DVD|
|Audio||Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround|
|Release Date||May 17, 2005|
|The anamorphic widescreen transfer of Battlefield Baseball looks very good for a low-budget film. The image is slightly soft throughout, resulting in a little less detail, but it is very clean, with virtually no dirt or specks anywhere. Colors are strong and vibrant, which gives the image an appropriately comic-book like appearance (color schemes are important to the film’s overall look, as they distinguish past from present and good guys from bad guys).|
|The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is quite good, with ample use of the surrounds and a relatively decent low end.|
|Although I haven’t seen the Japanese DVD, my hunch is that the supplements on Subversive Cinema’s Region 1 DVD replicate that disc pretty closely. This Special Edition of Battlefield Baseball comes with an impressive array of extras, many of which are as bizarre as the movie itself. For the strong-willed, you can start with the screen-specific audio commentary by director Yudai Yamaguchi, producer Ryuhei Kitamura, star Tak Sakaguchi and comedian/actor Hidetaka Nishio. Of course, the entire commentary is in Japanese, so you have to read it in subtitles, and it takes a while for the participants to wind down and actually talk about the movie itself, rather than spewing jokes and insults and wise cracks at each other. Also featured on the disc are two making-of featurettes, one of which is little more than a jokey interview with star Tak Sakaguchi conducted by a little kid intercut with scenes from the film and production footage. The other featurette is a more in-depth look at the film’s production, giving us a good behind-the-scenes look at the special effects. There is also footage of the film’s premiere in Tokyo and a handful of wacky short films, including a variation on the film’s premise done with LEGO-like characters. Those who like the movie’s pop songs will relish a karaoke video for the cherry blossoms ballad. Lastly, there are three theatrical trailers and some amusing outtakes.|
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
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