In an earlier preview of a new Taiwanese baseball film titled “KANO,” I explained that when a high school baseball team from Taiwan was invited to the Japan in 1931 to play in the annual Koshien tournament, the team from Taiwan surprised everyone by reaching the finals — and almost winning. Okay, they came in second, but the story still resonates today in both Taiwan and Japan, and a new movie by first-time director Umin Boya [has lit up] the scoreboard.
Producer Wei Te-sheng, the director of earlier Taiwanese blockbusters ‘Cape No. 7? and ‘Seediq Bale’, had the baseball project in mind for about ten years, he told this reporter in an interview last year. So he wrote a script, asked Umin Boya to direct the movie, raised a pile of money, and hired a cast of unknown Taiwanese actors and local extras. The movie was released on February 27 in Taiwan and will be shown in Japan at the Osaka film festival soon as well.
After seeing “KANO,” a three-hour emotional rollercoast with lush, superb cinematography with subtitles in English, I want to tell readers here and around the world: this movie is the best baseball movie ever. Not just the best Asian baseball movie ever, but the best baseball movie ever in the world! It’s that good.
The movie tells the story of a high school baseball team comprised of three ethnic groups — Japanese, Han Chinese and native Aboriginal boys — and one tough Japanese coach, played by the actor Masatoshi Nagase in a stellar performance. The “Chiayi Norin Gakko” team took a boat from Keelung to Japan in the summer of 1931 and turned a lot of heads in Kobe. Now in 2014, the movie is turning heads in Taiwan and Japan and when it hits movie theaters in North America and Europe, baseball flicks will never be seen in quite the same way again.
My take? This is ‘the. best. baseball. movie. ever.’ For one reviewer in Taiwan, a Westerner who goes by the handle of “Hansioux” on an online film forum, “KANO” rocks.
“‘KANO’is about baseball, people who love the game of baseball, and how sports can transform a person, a group, a city and even a nation,” he writes. “As a baseball movie, it’s a great one, and as a rabid baseball fan, I’ve seen a lot of baseball movies.”
In most sports movies, there’s a “building the team by finding all the right pieces” sequence, Hansioux writes, adding: “It’s not restricted to sports movies, think ‘Oceans 11’, when George Clooney and Brad Pitt are picking and recruiting the team. It is usually done with a snappy tempo, being humorous while showing the audience what these people can do, and why they belong on the team. KANO tries to have such a sequence, but the tempo is a bit choppy and also doesn’t clearly show the audience that the Japanese colonial coach went to each of the Taiwanese players one by one and asked if they want to join.”
Another thing most sports movies must have is some douchebag trying to dissolve, unfund the team, like the owner of that Charlie Sheen ”Wild Thing” movie trying to sell the team, or the parents in the original ”Bad News Bears” wanting their kids to quit, Hansioux notes.
While the movie starts off in colonial Taiwan, the film moves north to the national high school baseball championships in Japan in 1931 and it’s here where the ”KANO” hits paydirt.
“The Japanese portion of the story was what made this movie one of the best baseball movies ever,” Hansioux wrote. “The character stories and acting are top notch. The atmosphere and the scenery of the stadium is breathtaking. More importantly, the level of baseball skills displayed on the screen is real. I mean this is not Tim Robbins as Nuke Laloosh in ‘Bull Durham” or Thomas Ian
Nicholas in that ‘Rookie Rocket’ movie. There are no quick edits to hide the awkwardness of the actors, and there are no gimmicks. I seriously felt like I was watching a baseball game. I got pretty nervous and felt the pain of the players, clenching my fists when things got tough even though I knew the story pretty well.”
Before going into his summary, Hansioux adds: “Before you non-baseball lovers mock that feeling like a real baseball game must mean the tempo was slow and sleep inducing, the tempo was
just right. It was fast and snappy when the plays were going on, and just slow enough when it came to developing the characters. I don’t think I ever had as intense of an experience watching other baseball movies.”
His conclusion: “There’s a theme of not giving up, setting a high goal for oneself, don’t expect to win, just give your darnedest not to lose even if the odds are stacked against you. If there’s anything else in this movie other than the game of baseball, it’s producer and writer Wei De-sheng and director Umin Boya wanting to remind audiences what the ‘Taiwanese spirit’ means.”
So let this reporter repeat: ”KANO” is ”The. best. baseball. movie. ever.”