Release Date: July 23rd, 2011
Running Time: 73 mins.
Director: Yudai Yamaguchi
Writer: Yudai Yamaguchi, Keita Tokaji (Screenplay),
Starring: Tak Sakaguchi, Mari Hoshino, Miho Ninagawa, Miho Narita, Mickie Curtis, Ryosei Tayama,
Baseball is, for some odd reason, one of the most popular sports in Japan. It would take zombies and bloodshed to truly make it interesting for me. Enter the rather short-lived film label, Sushi Typhoon, a gang responsible for the movies a series of splatter films like Cold Fish (2011), Mutant Girls Squad (2010), Hell Driver (2011), and Yakuza Weapon (2011). They bring their over-the-top action and special effects to a boring sport and liven it up with mass killings, androids and more craziness for an audience than is healthy.
It all begins with a game of baseball played between a father and two sons. What starts out as a softly lit idealised fantasy turns bizarre after Jubei Yakyu kills his father with a literally earth-shattering pitch that pretty much shatters the guy’s head. His brother Musashi is horrified at the carnage and their family is split up…
Sometime in the future Tokyo has descended into chaos thanks to the youth. There is one juvenile in particular who is committing crimes all over the place and his name is Jubei Yakyu (Sakaguchi)…
When we next meet him he has turned himself into the police after murdering a rapist. He gets sent to a rather notorious rotten prison for juveniles but is given the chance to earn his freedom by joining the prison baseball team run by the cruel and malicious Nazi-sympathiser head warden Ishihara (Ninagawa).
Her Juvie League team is supposed to reform young criminals and since Jubei’s pitching skills are well-known to prison authorities but she has a secret agenda. She is the granddaughter of a man who aided the Nazis and she has picked up their segregationist and genocidal views as well as their dress code. She has set up her team with what turns out to be a genuine life or death match against Saint Black Dahlia High School, a fearsome bunch of genocidal maniacs and terrorists trained by neo-Nazi’s and they love causing pain…
Jubei is forced onto the field with a bunch of murderous and loony teammates with only the girlish Shinnosuke Suzuki (Hoshino) proving a loyal friend. Jubei has his own secret. He is in Ishihara’s prison because that is where his brother ended up…
Will Jubei survive the game of baseball, find his brother and escape Ishihara?
Deadball is as silly as it sounds and all the better for it. The film gets the audience to partake of the silliness by roaring through every silly gag with such dedication and glee that it’s hard not to get caught up in the events.
Cheap but fun, the film takes place in a few sets delightfully decorated to look like the nastiest of prisons and the most bleak of baseball fields, the cast are put through a series of bad-taste jokes (extreme cavity searches, vomit for food) and sight gags (tearing arms off, fist through a phone) that come thick and fast in a tactic that sees a million gags thrown at the audience and hoping that half of them stick. Caught somewhere between gross-out humour and physical comedy, none of this is new and not every joke is funny but it is delivered with energy so if something doesn’t work there’s usually something coming fast on its heels to distract the viewer.
The best aspect of the film is action star Tak Sakaguchi. Criminally underused because the Japanese movie industry has stopped making films with balls (and not the sort used in baseball), he displays martial arts prowess and a sense of humour throughout the film kicking and punching enemies in a Bruce Lee style complete with yells and fine athleticism.
His whole character is a riff on the archetypal stoic hero. With the name yakyu (Japanese for baseball) and dressed like a cowboy in a poncho, he exudes nothing but charisma and cool with his nonchalant style especially when he is battling neo-Nazis and tearing balls off while spouting silly non sequiturs. Like a total baseball-themed hero he can leap into the bad-guy’s lair, kick down a bunch of gun-toting thugs and literally use people as baseball bats and blow someone’s head off with a baseball without missing a beat regardless of how absurd the sight is.
The cast of character surrounding him are equally fun to watch. The prison camp is run by “Frau” Ishihara, a severe-looking woman, and her goons who wear Nazi uniforms, Jubei’s baseball team made up of stereotypes like yankees and nerds battle Saint Black Dahlia High School, a rival baseball team that are all sexy S&M girls who like gyrating around while stabbing guys up and murdering in inventive ways.
These guys and gals get into the most intense and intensely silly baseball battle some balls turn into heat-seeking missiles or splitting in half to reveal deadly blades. Body parts get lopped off by CGI baseballs which vary between explosives, saws, and tentacles and CGI blood sprays everywhere. It’s tacky but fun.
Like a typical splatter film it pitches itself into the absurd often and while some people may be put off by the silliness and the cheapness of proceedings I liked the anarchy. In fact, the simplicity of the story was also a boon for me because it streamlines proceedings so the plot does not stop with the action and comedy. Not only is one death followed by another, there’s usually some gag inserted – a reaction shot, a one-liner, an absurd flashback or silly narration by the evil announcer at the baseball match, the way that Tak Sakaguchi need only reach off-screen and he’ll have a cigarette given to him so he can look cool while smoking – that keeps things funny (although some may find the gay-bashing jokes uncomfortable) and, miracle of miracles, baseball is made funny because of the craziness.
The film ends with a guy getting blown apart by a baseball and the sequence repeated from a dozen different angles a dozen times providing the final topping of an experience that knows it’s silly and plays everything up with glee. Although not perfect, the film is highly entertaining.