Release Date: September 23rd, 2020
Duration: 10 mins.
Director: Ryushi Lindsay
Baseball has never looked so menacing.
Kokutai is roughly translatable as ‘body politic’ and it is the title of Ryushi Lindsay’s debut movie. An experimental documentary, Kokutai looks askance at the pomp and ceremony of high school baseball in Japan and, through careful and selective assemblage of footage, reveals the fascist aesthetics that are present.
Baseball is not normally thought of as a place of violent political leanings but this 10-minute montage strikes a defiantly different note as it plays out sequences from Koshien baseball tournaments and goes heavy displaying imagery drenched in fascist overtones.
We witness formations of players and marching bands moving with regimented precision and martial vigour. There is an abundance of uniforms – a lot looking very militaristic with their braids, laurels and epaulettes. Flags are fluttering as they are held aloft by serious-faced young men. The physical prowess of the players is displayed as these examples of ubermensch throw and strike balls. The Hinomaru, Japan’s national flag, is repeatedly cut to as it flies proudly. The crowd and NHK cameras lap everything up.
Overall, we witness people subsuming themselves into a spectacle with nationalist overtones. Shot in black and white and played back in slow motion, this feels like a blast from our collective warlike past of the 1930/40s rather than our present which is defined by unjust peace. These aesthetic choices are a nice form of manipulation to create that link to an earlier age of global trauma.
This link to the past is reinforced by the score by Andy Trewren (Soundcloud link) which is reminiscent of Arnold Schoenberg’s modern classical music. It is the perfect accompaniment for this parade of imagery as it makes it more menacing. It is an uncomfortable score that is alternately aggressive and pregnant with foreboding, full of trilling and stabbing melodies and offbeat percussion that strikes in the quieter moments.
Taken together, both audio and visuals suggests the seeding of fascist thought in a seemingly innocuous setting of sport. A European mind will immediately feel discomfort, like these are uncomfortable visual references to Nuremberg Rally.
Okay, that reference to that notorious point in history can be considered hyperbole but it indicates how far the documentary goes to show that what is normally taken to be an innocent pastime can be used by dark political forces to further their own aims.
Shorn of any politics, one could imagine these sights are thrilling to be a part of. With Lindsay’s aesthetic choices and collection of footage and the music, this film subverts everything to an extreme and so this makes it a good documentary, perfect for an age where so many countries around the world are gripped by nationalistic politics and increasing numbers of people are caught between accepting the false consciousness of government/media and lies peddled on social media.
By the way, I had to throw in Patlabor 2: The Movie.