Deadball: Film Review

Deadball - Movie Still - H - 2011
A Japanese "splatter-sports" flick that doesn't glorify team spirit and tireless training.

Tak Sakaguchi, Mari Hoshino and Miho Ninagawa star in director Yudai Yamaguch's Japanese horror-sports movie.

BUCHEON, South Korea -- You need never have watched a single baseball game to figure out Deadball as only one rule applies on the pitch: kill or be killed. Directed by Yudai Yamaguchi who made Battlefield Baseball, this genre curveball revives some of the plot points and names of characters from that manga-to-movie horror-sports-spoof. It again features martial arts star Tak Sakaguchi as a superhuman pitcher with a painful family history, but instead of leading high-school Little League wannabes against murderous zombies, he heads a crack team of death row inmates against a high school girls' team trained by neo-Nazis. Filmed in the bloody style of Battle Royale and fueled by a rowdy cast of hilariously psychotic characters, the film is nothing but splatter-action that at times literally sizzles with shamelessly low budget yet playful visual effects.

Another cheap, cheerful production from Nikkatsu's Sushi Typhoon series, with much the same schlocky parodies of Yamato spirit, Deadball will probably hit a home run in overseas Asia-extreme genre circle at which the series is specifically targeted.

The prologue paints an idyllic scene which could be any Japanese schoolboy's dream: teenager Yakyu Jubei (literally "Baseball Jubei") plays catch ball with his dad (the film’s screenwriter Tokaji Keita) on a gleaming outdoor diamond, while younger brother Musashi looks on adoringly. Dad tells Jubei to give him his best throw. He takes that to heart and let's just say he leaves behind a blazing trail.

Ten years or so later, Jubei (Sakaguchi) is arrested for allegedly committing 50 felonies, and brought to a detention center for recalcitrant criminals. The warden is Ishihara (Miho Ninagawa), the racial-supremacist descendent of a War War II Nazi attaché. Under her iron thumb, the prison is run like English boarding schools of yore -- the inmates are subjected to excruciating body frisks, meals are comprised of puke flavored with MSG and sport is a matter of life and death. Jubei bonds with cellmate Shinozuke (Mari Hoshino in cross-dress), a girlish 16-year-old homicidal, who, like in Battlefield Baseball, is nicknamed Megane. Through him, Jubei learns that his brother, who was also incarcerated here for juvenile terrorism, had died mysteriously.

Ishihara browbeats the inmates into forming a baseball team and signs them off for a match against St. Black Dahlia High, a girl school whose students are raging butch dominatrixes trained by a Caucasian Neo-Nazi whom Ishihara adulates. Knowing this is a kamikaze game, the inmates tout the samurai motto of "live by dying" (a parody of a catchphrase in a classic teenage baseball manga) and pledge to sacrifice their lives to enable Jubei to destroy Ishihara and her fascist cronies.

Deadball is a slightly less brain-damaged sister of Yakuza Weapon(another title in the Sushi Typhoon series co-directed by Yamaguchi and Sakaguchi), dishing out essentially the same kind of cartoon-like choreographed fights and blowouts, outlandish gore effects and kinky girls. The exaggerated violence and far-fetched scenarios gel better here, because the sight of baseballs with the explosive power of missiles is a tad more novel than mecha-body-weapons, robots, now used to death in the series. Thankfully, the latter are kept to a minimum until the end where it works as a twist.

Keita’sscreenplay adds some satirical bite to the schoolboy humor with send-ups of both extreme Right and Left. The epilogue set in North Korea featuring a silly impersonation of Kim Jung-il had South Koreans audiences in stitches during a festival screening.

While sets and props are on the crude side, costume designer Masae Miyamotobrings flair to the picture by daringly crossing sexually vamp Goth fashion with the aggressive militaristic pomp of Nazi regalia.

Venue: Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival
Production companies: Presented by Nikkatsu Corporation, released by Sushi Typhoon, produced by Pipeline
Cast: Tak Sakaguchi, Mari Hoshino, Miho Ninagawa, Jhonmyon Pe, Ryosei Tayama,  Mickey Curtis
Director: Yudai Yamaguch
Screenwriter: Tokaji Keita
Producers:Yoshinori Chiba, Shin Torisawa
Executive producer: Akifumi Sugihara
Director of photography: Masakazu Oka
Production designer: Nori Fukuda
Music: Nobuhiko Morino
Costume designer: Masae Miyamoto
Editor: Zensukke Hori
Sales: Nikkatsu Corporation
No rating, 98 minutes