Battlefield Baseball (US - DVD R1)
Batter up! Producer Ryuhei Kitamura brings us Marxist choas, with baseball. Gabe checks out the new Subversive Cinema DVD...
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I’ve never been a baseball fan. I find it a slowly paced and long-winded waste of my money. Frankly, I think most spectator sports are about as dull as a butter knife. It is a facet of modern society that I was simply never persuaded to take an active interest in. On the other hand, I am a fan of artistic movements, film, punk rock, and satire. Filmmakers Yudai Yamaguchi and Ryuhei Kitamura have taken these things I love and merged them with the sport I loathe. I couldn’t be happier.
If you were one of the many Asian film fanatics who saw the box art for Battlefield Baseball and assumed, like I did, it was a simple Versus/Shaolin Soccer hybrid, I’m happy to say you were mistaken. Though it does share a surreal sense of humour with many Stephen Chow vehicles, and was produced by Versus director Kitamura, it in the end has more in common with the likes of the Marx Bros. Duck Soup and Animal Crackers. This is film at its most sarcastic and hilariously anarchistic.
The ‘plot’ is a witch’s brew of lazy scriptwriters' crutches. It begins with an underdog sports team about to enter mortal combat with a superior and ruthless rival team. Their only chance of victory is a violent loner, who has the skills, but hates the sport due to some undisclosed past tragedy. Amongst the ranks is the quintessential nerd who must overcome overwhelming adversity, risking everything in the process. His single mother hates the sport for undisclosed reasons, and his participation must remain a secret. Mutual love of the sport itself brings the motley crew together and allows them to overcome all obstacles through teamwork and perseverance. Then, for fun, supernatural fighting skills are tossed into the pot. The ruthless rival team is made up of actual murderous monsters, rather than metaphorical ones. They are hideous, zombie-like beasts that ooze maniacal laughter, and possess unnatural abilities.
But here’s where it starts to get interesting— Battlefield Baseball contains only one sequence of players actually playing baseball, which is in the pre-title dream sequence. Though the title card claims the film is dedicated to lovers of the sport, the film is actually a rather spiteful stab at the tedium of it all. The ‘baseball games’ between the heroes, Seido High, and the villains, Gedo High, are actually violent, to-the-death brawls. “Great,” you say, “I like a good fist-fight better than a baseball game any day”. Well here’s another kicker—the epic baseball battles take place almost entirely off screen, with the exception of two or three on screen stand offs, which all involve some kind of flip one-on-one action. Characters reactions to the fights are more prevalent then the fights themselves, and the gory aftermaths are purely played for laughs.
In all its Dadaist fury, Battlefield Baseball snubs its nose at every one of the audience’s expectations. Though it fulfills its jabs at various genre cliché, each comes accompanied with a backhanded insult to the viewer’s sensibilities. If it seems inappropriate, it will most likely be done. And I’m not just talking gross-out gags and bad taste jokes (though Battlefield Baseball has more than its share). Anti-hero Jubeh spends a good part of the film trying to remember a throwing technique he will never use, almost every major character is reincarnated before the finale, and intense super-weapon reveal is interrupted by a maddeningly hilarious scene of nothingness.
Like most decent satires and spoofs, Battlefield Baseball defies logical criticism. Some of the jokes fall flat, but even the failures fulfil the film’s basic purpose. The only real negative thing I can say is that all concerned are probably guilty of trying a little too hard. To be a real punk rocker is to truly not given a damn, and it’s clear that everyone involved wants to be liked on some level. The magic can’t be denied, however, the minute the screen wipes to a pink tint, and Jubeh breaks into song to explain his long absence from the sport.
The folks at Subversive Cinema have outdone themselves with this transfer. My expectations were admittedly low, as I knew this was a low budget feature, and early Subversive titles weren't of the highest video quality; but I can state in all fairness that Battlefield Baseball looks pretty slick. Like many recent Japanese films, the colours are often quite over-saturated, and the frame usually appears to be filmed through a singled coloured gel. This was most likely added in post-production, but the effect ads a nice artificiality to the film’s look.
There is some decent sized grain and a few flickering artefacts here and there, but nothing terribly noticeable or distracting. The anamorphic framing seems accurate, and is plenty bright. I suppose I could’ve gone for some deeper blacks and a tad more crispness, but I seriously doubt the source material was ripe for remastering.
There are two Japanese audio choices on the disc: one 2.0 Stereo Surround and one remastered 5.1 Dolby Digital. The 2.0 track is actually quite a bit better, as it is both louder and slightly clearer. The 5.1 track is obviously artificially created much after the fact, and really doesn’t contain any special moments. The quietness factor is really what makes the 5.1 track unnecessary, however, and the lack of excitement in the better 2.0 track doesn’t help the final score.
Partitioned into several submenus, each with its own lead in sequence, there is a nice collection of tongue-in-cheek versions of DVD mainstays like making-of docs, trailers, outtakes and commentary. Though actual information on the film’s history or production isn’t exactly prevalent, the features themselves are a blast.
The commentary track is gloriously over-crowded with seemingly dozens of cast and crewmembers, each spouting their own brand of goofiness in their native Japanese. Though there is an accompanying subtitle track, the madness of the track is still gleefully overwhelming. Perhaps best meant for lonely, Japanese speaking frat boys, this commentary is all over the place.
There are two making of docs, the second of which consists of raw behind the scenes footage of shot set-ups, filming, and the cast and crew messing about. However, the first doc is more amusing, in that it satires the typical studio press pack. Star Tak Sakaguchi enters a screening room where a young boy reads questions to him from visible cue cards. Tak thinks about the first question for a moment before glibly revealing a stack of cue cards of his own, from which he reads an answer. The stereotypical Entertainment Tonight softball questions are followed by priceless moments of behind-the-scenes footage, including a sequence where Tak explains his refusal to use a stunt double while sitting right next to his.
The short films section includes a short glimpse at the press tour set to the power-pop theme song ‘Battle Guys’, the story of a boy in search of the perfect bowl of ramen for his dying grandmother, and two short re-enactments of scenes from the original comic staring adorable Kubrick toys. The Kubrick shorts are the best feature on the set and nearly worth the price of the DVD. For those not in the know, Kubrick toys are very much like slightly larger Lego men, which are popular in Japan, and with worldwide collectors. I’m assuming the toys were made based on the original comic characters because they really don’t look like their movie counterparts. These aren’t to be mistaken with the rather high production value Lego related stop-motion shorts that can be found on the web, as the characters really don’t move on their own and the ‘animator’s’ hands can be seen in several shots.
The trailers, which include various other Subversive releases, are rather run if the mill, as are the deleted scenes and outtakes. They should probably be viewed last, as a sort of comedown from the zaniness of the rest of the set. The final features of the set are two Karaoke versions of one of the musical numbers, one with lyrics from the film, the other with totally unrelated lyrics, but a shared melody. I regret to state that I was unable to sing along myself due to my disability to understand the Japanese language. Like the commentary, these features are aimed squarely at all the Japanese speaking frat boys sect.
Obviously not meant for everyone, Battlefield Baseball is an honest to God work of film art that comfortably straddles the line between garbage and genius. It is not destined to become a classic, but deserves a loyal cult following more than most tailor made cult films available today. Those who think they can handle the insanity should see this film now, preferably while in a particularly abstract mood.
This DVD is available for purchase at www.hkflix.com
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 3rd May 2005
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese, Dolby Digital 2.0 Japanese
Subtitles: English, Japanese
Extras: 2 'Making of' Documentaries, Audio Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Outtakes, Short Films, Music Videos, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Yudai Yamaguchi
Cast: Tak Sakaguchi, Shinji Tanikado, Kenji Matsuda, Hideo Sakaki, Atsushi Ito
Length: 97 minutes
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