Crossing taboos that other cultures fear to approach, Asian cinema approaches violence, sexuality, and such subversive themes as social anarchy with unparalleled intelligence, emotional fervor, and admirable audacity. Vivisecting the Western world's banal, self-satisfied depiction of young adults as precious darlings requiring comfort and protection, and mirroring its puritanical ignorance by insisting that films show little if any physical or emotional violence against them, Asian horror digs to the rotting, sexually enticing, emotional overcharged world of the adolescent experience -- at once terrifying, titillating, and alienated from its own culture and peers. A disturbing, emotionally intense sub-genre since the deliciously politically incorrect social drama and vicious violence of Battle Royal, which symbolized in fictional form the violence and competition that adults encourage children to commit, the adolescent thriller film -- a genre populated in America by lame-brained tit-and-ass college fraternity high-jinks and moral fluff posing as disobedience -- stares deep beneath the cultural crust of the teenage sub-culture while poking delirious fun at what it finds.
Asian cinema often lays bare the stinking soul of the larger culture surrounding the angst and confusion of adolescence. Daring to examine the self-absorbed, decidedly deadly exploitation of such adult institutions as politics, academics, and religion, Battlefield Baseball liberally burrows the primal themes and surface exploitation of previous kids-in-turmoil cinema and interweaves it with a truly bizarre menagerie of sports, drama, comedy, and ruthlessly unapologetic splatter. Approaching its story and general tone with honesty, enthusiasm, and absurdist humor, this fear film is just as concerned with clever reflection as it is deadly deadpan and slasher satire, approaching its core story and mood from a more uplifting vantage point than other Asian thrillers exploring similar territory. Establishing a unique identity of foolishness, mayhem, and satire, this live-action cartoon manages to examine painful issues of identity and culture with a humor and even uplifting moral message that distinguishes it from Battle Royal and others of its ilk. While my own nature favors the later, this movie's menage of weirdness and sincerity is hard to dislike!
Crafted by those lovely lunatics who produced the action-packed Versus, a wet dream of viscera and martial arts mayhem, this odd mingling of spectator sports, based on a manga, defies simple categorizations of classification; this is exactly one of its chief merits. Denying simplistic definition with both a story and method of presentation that veers effortlessly through various genres and aesthetic forms, this horrible hybrid features new student Jubeh (Tak Yamaguchi) who excelled at baseball until the death of his father made him loose interest. When his schoolmates convince him to pick up the trusty ole glove again (tired of loosing to Gedo High School), Jubeh tries to exercise his familial demons as well as win one for the team.
A miracle of misplaced mayhem, morbidity, and maliciousness, this barely plotted narrative is more of an anti-story than a tale properly told, evoking the surrealism of a confused dream. This results in an attack of images and anti-logic. Those looking for a coherent traditional story best look elsewhere, for this Asian exercise in absurdism is more Looney Tunes than Lord of the Flies. Never taking itself too seriously, nor expecting us too, Battlefield Baseball introduces us to major characters with song-and-dance numbers, features zombies whose version of the Great American Past-time is deliciously demented, and is so twisted in its devotion to weirdness that you'll either love or hate it.
While suggesting the corruptness and inherent wrongness of societal pressure, hinting at the corruption of government and old world culture likewise explored in such films as Kill Devil, this entry into adolescent horror/comedy is too uneven to stress one particular theme or motif effectively. While this would harm a film whose purpose was to make a strict moral or aesthetic point, this cinematic outrage isn't out to change the world; it simply wants to mock it, to celebrate its lunacy. And in this it succeeds very well. If any messages are to be found in this thinly plotted excuse to feature one explosive set piece of violence, gore, and humor after another, than it would be the age old, banal if oddly endearing sentiment 'don't quit." Somehow, in this confused carnival of carnality and carnage, the message works, inspiring hope and humor amongst rolling heads and bloody body parts, living dead sportsmen, and resurrected dead men.
Presented in impressive looking widescreen (1.85:1) the picture is strong, clear, and without bleeding or such defects as grain or lines. Colors are strong and vibrant. Taken from what must have been a remarkably clean source, the visual quality is near flawless. Audio is likewise commendable, including both Dolby Digital 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1, offered in Japanese with optional English subtitles.
Extras, as per course for Subversive, are as impressive as the feature which they supplement, providing introspective looks into the creative process as well as cultural perspective which lend further meaning and enjoyment. First off is a commentary with director Yudai Yamaguchi as well as Ryuhei Kitamura, Hidetaka Nishio, and Tak Sakaguchi wherein they discuss everything from filming accidents to the challenges of particular scenes, stunt work, etc. A mixture of good humored ribbing and intimate reflection share the stage with more technical information, making the experience educational and personal. This is followed by an interview with Tak Sakaguchi, a mini-documentary exploring 'the making' of the movie, and a behind the scenes featurette that takes a look at how the movie was made. A blooper reel is also on hand, followed by two trailers for Battlefield Baseball, and, finally, trailers for other Subversive titles.
Review by William P Simmons
|Released by Subversive Cinema|
|Region 1 - NTSC|
|see main review|