All-Out Nine: Field of Nightmares, TheReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/05/06 00:50:44
(Worth A Look)
SCREENED AT THE 2006 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: I've got no idea what "Gyakkyou" literally translates to, but I appreciate the pun that "Gyakkyou Nine"'s English title represents - are these players the "All-Out Nine" because of the all-out effort they put into the game, or because, in spite of that effort, they suck, and thus all make outs? That's about the closest thing you'll find to subtlety in "All-Out Nine", but it doesn't matter. Sure, it beats you over the head with a hammer whose head is made of sports-movie clich�s, but it's so over-the-top that it also functions as parody.As the movie opens, Toshi Fukutsu (Tetsuji Tamayama), the captain of All-Out High's baseball team, is called into the principal's office. The principal (Hiroshi Fujoka) hands him some bad news - he's eliminating the baseball team and giving their meager facilities over to the soccer team. The news hits Toshi like a blow, sending him flying across the room, and he begs the principal for a reprieve - if he can lead the baseball team to the national tournament, surely he'll reconsider. The principal grudgingly allows him to try, and when they "win" a scrimmage against a regional powerhouse (there's a Biblical rain going on, and the other team opts to practice inside, forfeiting the game), there's hope... So the team is assigned a faculty adviser/manager who has, apparently, never seen a baseball game before. That doesn't matter to Toshi - after all, any obstacle in his path is sweet Adversity that makes his struggle all the more worthy!
This film is a broad, over-the-top comedy, quite frankly cartoonish in its slapstick and melodramatic reactions, not hiding the fact that it is adapted from a comic book at all. Indeed, it uses a lot of manga conventions (text-based jokes, a monolith with an accusation appearing in front of the characters, expositional flashbacks squirted at the viewer at lightning speed). The audience may be more accepting of it if they remember a few points about contemporary Japanese life going in: First, comic series based on sports are very popular in Japan, whether playing it straight, using the game as a backdrop to romance, or going for broad comedy as with Gyakkyou 9; which I presume is a relatively popular series. Second, the annual high school baseball tournaments occupy roughly the same place in sports fandom that the NCAA college basketball tournament occupies in the United States; the intensity with which the local community concentrates on the TV coverage of these games is probably not exaggerated that much. And, finally, Japan and South Korea co-hosted a recent World Cup, so that sport's popularity was probably at a very high level when the comics and film were made.
I mention this because one of the film's most bizarre - and hilarious - running jokes is the soccer team and its fans as villains. Every arrogant member of the team has a girl hanging off each arm, although none are as perky-cute as Akiko Tsukita (Maki Horikita), the clubhouse manager who keeps the baseball team from falling apart - and having those girls ask team members out so that they'll miss games and practices is only one of the ways they try to sabotage Toshi's dreams. The bit that really cracked me up, though, was the little kid in a ratty t-shirt, carrying a bat over his shoulder with his glove hanging off, who is periodically picked on and beat up by a pack of eleven year-olds in soccer jerseys. Something about such a minor rivalry taken so far in such a ridiculous manner cracks me up.
That, however, is just the tip of the insanity iceberg. Every staple of sports movies is present and larger than life, from the eccentric coach with peculiar words of wisdom to the "stand up and cheer" ending. The teams that All-Out High faces on its road to the nationals include the likes of "Half-ass High". And, of course, the team which forfeited to All-Out makes a return appearance for The Big Game, including their most feared hitter, known as "The Sniper", who makes notches in his bat (the end of which looks like a night scope) for every high-school pitcher whose career he ends with his vicious line drives. Of course, Toshi is All-Out's star pitcher, and the situation he faces will set the stage for one of the most ridiculous comeback situations in sports movie history. Kudos definitely go to director Eiichiro Hasumi and screenwriter Yuichi Fukuda for actually making the last act get funnier as it goes along, getting more and more absurd.
Now, I didn't for a minute believe Tetsuji Tamayama was a high school student, or at least not one who would come back to be on the baseball team the next school year; he's obviously in his mid-twenties. But, he tears into his role with gusto, giving the scenery constant and needed chewing, especially when it comes to the idea of facing Adversity, which he relishes, always capitalizing the word with his voice - if it's possible for a personality to be innocently masochistic, that's Yoji. Mostly, Tamayama makes Yoji determined but kind of dumb, though not in a way that earns contempt; he's sort of the type who would be worried if he were just a little smarter, so things sort of work out well for him. Maki Horikita, on the other hand, does genuinely appear to be a high school student (she's eight-plus years younger than her co-star), and she's really a delight to watch as the person on the team with the most common sense, though she does goofy well when called for. The rest of the cast is pretty subordinate to them; they're just the other players on the team, because you need nine people to make up a baseball squad. They all handle their funny stuff well, but they don't really stand out as individual characters.
Which is fine. The jokes come roughly every twenty-five seconds, with each sillier than the last. Somehow, Hasumi keeps everything from completely going strange. There's just enough moments of the main characters as people rather than joke delivery systems to keep the audience as invested as they need to be, and each bit is just sillier enough than the last one to keep us from disconnecting. The events are insane, but reasonable in the movie's crazy world.By the end, "All-Out Nine" has hit every major sports-movie clich�, and had a great deal of fun at their expense. But it's also meant them, which makes the result a great deal of fun.
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