The Best. Baseball Movie. Ever (Guest Blog)

The Best. Baseball Movie. Ever (Guest Blog)

“KANO” is not just the best Asian baseball movie ever, but the best baseball movie ever in the world!

In an earlier preview here of the just-released Taiwanese baseball film titled “KANO,” this reporter explained that when a high school baseball team from Taiwan was invited to the Japan in 1931 to play in an annual high school tournament, it 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 Te-sheng Wei, the director of earlier Taiwanese blockbusters “Cape No. 7” and “Seediq Bale,” also about the influence of Japanese culture on Taiwan over the past 100 years, had the baseball project in mind for about 10 years, he said in an interview last year. So he wrote a script, asked actor and rookie director Umin Boya to helm the movie and hired a cast of unknown Taiwanese actors and local extras.

The movie was released Feb. 27 in Taiwan and will be screened in Japan as well.

After seeing “KANO,” a three-hour emotional rollercoast with lush, superb cinematography and English subtitles, 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 No-rin 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.

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 “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 and director Umin Boya wanting to remind audiences what the ‘Taiwanese spirit’ means.”

So let this Hollyblogger repeat: “KANO” is “The. Best. Baseball. Movie. Ever.”

  • Egg Man

    UPDATE: Readers familiar with cult American films might remember Jim Jarmusch’s 1989 movie ”Mystery Train”, which not only put the director on the world map but also turned the then-22-year-old Japanese actor Masatoshi Nagase — a high school drop-out from the countryside — into a star.

    Fast forward to 2014 and Nagase is lead role of Kano.

    Among the four Japanese actors, Nagase, now 47, has been cast as a strict Japanese high school baseball coach.

    When asked by the Taipei Times if Jarmusch was aware of his starring role in Kano, Nagase told me in English: “I’m not sure if he knows yet, but I hope he will find out later. I love Jim Jarmusch.”

  • Egg Man

    compare and comment:

    Major League (1989)

    You'll find just as many people who hate this movie as love it, but just about everyone who has seen it remembers it, which puts it ahead of most movies. While the story is cliché, the gags predictable and the characters two-dimensional, the movie is fun and the actors look like they can play.9

    The Sandlot (1993)

    It's probably the least known of any of the movies on our list, but It's by far the most charming of all the baseball movies featuring kids that followed “The Bad News Bears.” A cast of unknowns, except for James Earl Jones, creates a fond remembrance of what it was like to play neighborhood ball together.8A

    League of Their Own (1992)

    The movie is more about women fighting for their rights than the game on the field, but the women are credible as baseball players, except maybe Lori Petty. The movie also brought attention to a forgotten piece of baseball history, and it gets extra credit for adding the line “There's no crying in baseball” to the vernacular.7

    The Natural (1984)

    Another movie that tends to divide peoples opinions, It's a sentimental view of a slugger and the game. It's based on a novel by Bernard Malamud and features a strong cast led by Robert Redford. Baseball romantics love it and see it as a fable, while more jaded fans say It's overrated and simplistic. Either way, It's a lovely and influential movie.6

    The Bad News Bears (1976)

    The best pure baseball comedy, this movie reminded everyone what Little League was really like. Walter Matthau and Tatum O'Neal were perfect in their roles, and all of the foul-mouthed kids fit together beautifully. Don't hold it against this movie that it spawned many more unfunny movies that tried to be like it, including “The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training” and “The Bad News Bears Go to Japan,” which somehow starred Tony Curtis.5

    The Pride of the Yankees (1942)

    This classic is about baseball the way “Steel Magnolias” was about hairdressers. Much is made about Gary Cooper (as Gehrig) not really being lefthanded, but in this movie it hardly matters. Viewed today, It's a hopelessly sentimental movie, but it was made in a different age and is the best of the baseball melodramas. And at the end, when Cooper gives the “luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech, You'll shed a tear in spite of yourself. Bonus points for appearances by actual Yankees, including Babe Ruth and Bill Dickey.4

    Eight Men Out (1988)

    A thoroughly modern look back at a simpler time, this movie does not romanticize baseball's history and captures the time of the Black Sox scandal in an authentic way. John Sayles wrote and directed the movie, based on a book by Eliot Asinof, and does a great job of bringing the complexity of the story to the screen. A great cast helps as well. About the only thing the movie lacks is emotional intensity.3

    Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)

    This is the baseball version of “Brian's Song,” only better. It started a period of great modern baseball movies and is still regarded by many as the best of the bunch. The movie helped launch the careers of Michael Moriarty as the star pitcher and Robert DeNiro as the dying catcher. Some prefer the Mark Harris novel (he also wrote the screenplay) or criticize the details of the baseball in the movie, but that is quibbling. It's a truly touching film.2

    Field of Dreams (1989)

    Only the truly cynical aren't taken by this movie, which captures better than any other the mystical hold that baseball can have over people. Kevin Costner and the rest of the cast are great in this adaptation of W.P. Kinsella's novel “Shoeless Joe.” It seems that everyone latches on to something different as their favorite part or as the message of the film. Like baseball itself, It's a simple movie that also proves beautifully complex.1

    Bull Durham (1988)

    And It's not even that close. First, “Bull Durham” is far and away the most authentic portrayal of the game, both on and off the field. Baseball is treated with casual reverence: It's a great game, and we love it, but it is a game. Costner is at his best, and Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon are perfect complements. The romance between Costner and Sarandon is also just right. It's all thanks to writer and director Ron Shelton, who spent five years in the minor leagues and cared about doing things right. He avoids the usual sports movie clichés – he filmed Costner catching a foul pop just because he said movies never show the routine plays and creates characters that we like and a world that we Don't want to leave.

  • Egg Man

    It's great to see Taiwan make it well on the big screen every so often, says John Dankowski in Taipei

  • 洪士翔

    KANO真的是我看過最棒的棒球電影,相當感動,儘管不像其他落淚的觀眾,但也幾乎是熱淚盈框,誠心的推薦每個朋友去觀看。

    I really love kano so much !!!!!!!

  • Yuh

    These young actors are baseball players. They
    took performance and language training for months.

    In this movie, the skill and spirit of these
    young players, sets up some new standard for actors as well as baseball
    players.

    Highly recommended

  • 鄭世彥

    wow

  • Taylorist 

    The battlefield of heroes, Kano of the world!

  • trademind

    “The Best. Baseball Movie. Ever”….and probably the Only & the Last one

  • Jerome Besson

    This commenter is totally, but totally base-ball-illiterate. However, when it comes to the SPIRIT that unites Japan (Formosa included), I melt.

  • Tada Kei

    Chiayi No-rin Gakko”should be“Kagi Norin Gakko”, because “Chiayi” is Chinese name of the city, and “No-rin Gakko” is Japanese word. The name of the city is “Kagi” both in Japanese or Taiwanese.

    • danbloom

      @Tada Kei, you are correct: the actual name of the school in “romaji” roman letters in 1931 Japan era in Taiwan was “kagi no-lin gakko” – that is how it was pronounced in 1931 and the Japanese still refer to the school that way, so the school nickname came from the KA(gi) NO(lin) words, you are right. Thanks for the observant correction.

  • danbloom

    美媒盛讚《KANO》:全球史上最好棒球片
    The Wrap的報導第一句就寫道,「KANO不只是亞洲史上最好的棒球電影,它是全世界有史以來最好的棒球電影!」(擷取自The Wrap)

    KANO進軍美國 魏德盛:像嫁女兒

     《KANO》好評不斷,包括、The Wrap等國際媒體都有專刊報導,其中The Wrap的報導第一句就寫道,「KANO不只是亞洲史上最好的棒球電影,它是全世界有史以來最好的棒球電影!」

     在美國影評界已經「叫好」了,接下來有機會「叫座」嗎?監製魏德聖透露,確實有在美國上映的計畫,已在接觸當中,「就像把女兒嫁出去一樣,希望嫁個好人家。」其實早在去年電影上映前,《KANO》就曾在美國職棒紐約大都會隊的「台灣日」播放預告,埋下伏筆。

    旅台美國作家:比好萊塢電影好看

     在《KANO》正式進軍美國前,定居台灣嘉義市18年的美籍作家丹布隆(Dan Bloom),已提前被電影魅力折服,他看完《KANO》後熱淚盈眶,還透過電子郵件推薦給美國親友,盛讚「比好萊塢電影好看」!

     不只美國人感動,《KANO》日前來到電影故事背景日本,擔任大阪電影節開幕影片,影片結束後,全場500名日本觀眾感動到兩度起立鼓掌,時間前後長達10分鐘,更有女性觀眾淚流滿面,感動不已。

    • aaa

      個人部落格= 個人意見 =美媒?

      • Guest

        典型的吹捧文章,看看就好。

  • Davies ,Great Huang

    i feel so proud to be a Taiwanese especially living in chiayi hope it will won an oscar for Taiwan !!

  • penny

    really touching

  • Jerome Besson

    KANO stands for「嘉農」, abbreviation for「嘉義農林高校」or Kagi School of Agriculture and Forestry. But taken phonetically, it alludes to another meaning which this opus seems to have heralded masterfully. The power of hope, yes we can.

    • danbloom

      @Jerome Besson: well said. The Taipei Times headline a year ago when the movie was being shot on location in several cities and towns around the island nation was “YES THEY KANO!”

  • Guest

    So the blogger of this article Dan Bloom commented on his own article and wrote in Chinese “美媒盛讚《KANO》:全球史上最好棒球片” (back translation: US media applauded : best baseball movie in the world's history). I am not saying KANO is not a good movie. It's just that the promotion tactic here is cheesy. Let's wait till this movie is actually reviewed by movie critics, not just a fan.

    • danbloom

      Guest, — re actual reviews: KANO has been reviewed by three critics, professional film reviewers in Asia: Ho Yi, at the Taipei Times, thumbs up; Maggie Lee, Variety USA, thumbs up; and Clarence Tsui, Hollywood reporter, thumbs up.

      • Guest

        Where in the review did Hollywood Reporter actually give the thumbs up? It's far from saying KANO is “the best baseball movie”. On the Variety review's comment section I see a fanboy Danny Bloom who keeps saying it's the best baseball movie ever, just like a teenager. Coincidence? Trying to create the hype? It's strange that the Taiwanese newspaper UDN and Liberty Times only quoted this Wrap article, which is written by the same person. Wow, it's everywhere. It makes me wonder if he's part of the movie's promotion team, or just being too enthusiastic?

        • Egg Man

          @Guest, the way i read both THR review by Mr Tsui and Variety's review by Ms Lee, and the Taipei Times reviews by Ho Yi, all with reservations of course, the movie wasn't perfect, all three

          critics said, sure, and all of them found a few faults with the film that they expounded on, as good critics often do…but the way I read them all in the finaly analysis was they were all thumbs up.This blogger
          is a fan of the movie, sure, but he is not connected in any way as part of the movie's production team. Being too enthousiastic? Guilty as charged. That's all. Disregard anything i wrote that doesn't
          jibe with the movie you saw. Just a fan: of movies, of baseball, of Taiwan, of Japan — and the boys of summer worldwide. So guilty as charged. I will try to dial things back next time, sir, and thanks
          for the reminder.

  • danbloom

    UPDATE: Readers familiar with American cult films might remember Jim
    Jarmusch's 1989 movie ”Mystery Train”, which not only put the
    director on the world map but also turned the then-22-year-old
    Japanese actor Masatoshi Nagase into a star in his own country and now at age 47 he is star of KANO. And puts in a stellar performance.

  • danbloom

    Masashito Nagase, who American film fans know from his 1989 debut in “Mystery Train” directed by Jim Jarmusch, told a Japanese reporter for a sports newspaper (translated here):

    “In a difficult time like that in colonized Tawian — 1929 -the Japanese coach formed the team, braving various prejudices and discrimination,” said Nagase, who plays Coach Kondo in the film. “I’m proud of him as a Japanese comrade, and I want many more people to learn about his life.”

    Kondo was the skipper of the baseball team of Kagi Norin (Chiayi Agricultural and Forestry) Vocational High School, which was widely known as KANO.

    Initially, the baseball team was winless and weak, but Kondo managed to make full use of the characteristics of the characteristics of the Japanese, Taiwan and indigenous Taiwan players.

    Visiting Taiwan to promote the movie, Nagase said he saw the finished film during the premiere at Chiayi Baseball Field on Feb. 22.

    “It was the first time for me to see one of my films with 2,000 spectators in a baseball stadium,” Nagase said. “The sound was not perfect [because we were outdoors], and I tend to look for flaws in my own performance at first. But even so, I was filled with emotion as the audience applauded when the end credits appeared on-screen.”

    Nagase wondered at first whether he should take the role, which was offered to him around spring 2012.

    “The shooting schedule overlapped with my preparations for a photo exhibition to mark the 30th anniversary of my acting career. So I thought it would be physically impossible,” he said.

    However, he changed his mind after reading the script.

    “I found it incredibly interesting. The story was about a Japanese man who didn’t give up his dream in the midst of a difficult time. He formed a baseball team, getting rid of prejudices and discrimination. And people around him

    responded to his passion,” Nagase said.

    “I’m proud of what he achieved as a Japanese, and the Taiwan people were wonderful. I thought it would be great if the film helped more people know about the story. I want the audience to look at not only baseball but also how people’s minds change,” he said.

    Nagase repeatedly discussed what kind of person Kondo was with the director and others during shooting.

    “We’re a generation that barely knows what the war was like. For instance, some of our grandfathers actually went to the war, but members of their generation tend to be reluctant to speak about it. We’re aware of such an atmosphere. I thought I had to convey that to the production staff,” Nagase said.

  • Jack Yeh

    Can't agree with you more

  • Joplin

    ” Wei could have argued of wanting to just make an uplifting underdog teen-sports film, or a film about multicultural harmony in times of adversity. But it's an explanation he debunked himself when he runs Kondo's efforts to transform Kano from zeroes to heroes in parallel with that of Japanese architect Yoichi Hatta (Takao Osawa), as he is seen toiling to build irrigation systems around the region. Records show the Chianan Canal began operation in 1930, a year before Kano's annus mirabilis; by deliberately playing with the timeframe and unveiling these two strands in parallel – and there are many a scene of a god-like Hatta waving to dumbstruck locals – Wei and Umin Boya are actively offering up an ahistorical, apolitical and perhaps even amoral narrative of “civilizing missions” in action.” – Hollywood Reporter

    Loving the enthusiasm from Mr. Bloom but the amateurish writing and lack of acknowledge of cinema in general made this article a pure promotional piece. Anyone could blog out of a storm about Kano but it doesn't cover all the flaws through out the film. Please read the Hollywood reporter's article and rethink about writing any film reviews in the future.

    • Egg Man

      @Joplin, thanks for feedback and points well taken, sir. But one thing: my blog post as a blog post not a movie review, i am not film critic or a movie reviewer, just a poet lost in space and living in asia in the same city where KANO was filmed in 2013 and I visited the set over 20 times as a freelance newspaper reporter, not connected with the production in any way and this was not PR or marketing or promotional piece as I wrote it, I just wanted to give a shout out to American readers who love baseball and movies that this might be a movie to watch one day. The Hollywood Reporter review was right on, as was the Variety piece. But I'm not in the movie business or the professional critics biz. I'm an outsider, and sometimes I write things that resonate, and sometimes I miss the mark. If this piece missed the mark for you, Joplin, I can understand that and that's okay. I think we live on different planets: I don't go lookiing for flaws in films. I go looking for the human power to dream and make peace with the past in films, and that's what I tried to do here. 6000 shares and FB likes, so some readers must like it, but i am sure none fo them are film critics. I love film critics, I grew up reading Pauline Kael and the Village Voice reviewers. So I love film critics. But I'm not one. That's another department, and you can find them on another page. Peace out, cheers.

      • Joplin

        Well said Mr. Bloom. But, this IS a REVIEW of Kano, isn't it.
        I reckon the triumph of human spirit should be told with truth and passion, not a romanticized and sensationalized drama. Yes, we are on different planets. Hahaaa!! Peace & Cheers, yo!

  • Egg Man

    Hello Guest, 8 days ago: Just chalk it up to over-enthusiasm. Have you seen the movie yet? and re ”what kind of blogger comments on his own blog under two different IDs and goes to other's reviews and reposts his own blog in the comment section (see the review at Variety?” Guest sir, i use different ids depending which email platform i am on, as i do not own computer of my own never have never will and use internet cafe computers for my work here and everywhere, so diff IDs yes but they are all me and it is obvious it is me. Nothing underhanded intended. as for posting my reivew on anotehr review, she would not reply to my emails or tweets, so that was only option left to reach Maggie Lee in HK. i loved her review too as i also told her. THR review was terrific too. Why can't everyone get along and enjoy a good movie? sheesh.