The story of how Canada treated Japanese immigrants in the 1930s and 1940s is fraught with shame. The story of Canada’s Japanese baseball team, known as Asahi, is inspiring.
Formed in 1914, the small club started out as the worst team in the league. They were initially considered a joke but were determined to turn that around. Rather than trying to out muscle the ‘white guys’ they developed something the media dubbed ‘brain ball’. They became fan favorites up until World War II and the bombing of Pearl Harbour, which led to the internment of Japanese Canadians.
Ishii Yuya directs a screenplay by Okudera Satoko and has assembled a strong cast including Tsumabuki Satoshi as the Reiji, the reluctant captain of the team and Kamenashi Kazuya as Roy, his hotheaded friend.
Clearly a lot of money was spent on recreating the period sets and almost every scene starts with a long establishing shots showing them off. Almost every scene features long wistful stares and the sometimes-expository dialogue is laden with pauses and contributes to the 130 minute running time. Most of the teammates are not given distinct personalities to distinguish them from each other, so they remain emblems or symbols of earnestness.
This sense of importance robs the film of spontaneity and life at times, which results in a movie that we can admire for its production values and understand journey of the characters, but one in which we are never fully immersed or moved by beyond an intellectual level.
It’s a good film of a great story.
The Vancouver Asahi (Japan, Canada, 2014). Directed by Ishii Yuya. Screenplay by Okudera Satokko. Visit http://viff.org for showtimes.