Sunday, August 29, 2010

Green Mind, Metal Bats (Kazuyoshi Kumakiri, 2006)

Masanobu Ando as Ishioka in Green Mind, Metal Bats (2006).

Nanba is a former high school baseball player who's working in a convenience store. Ten years have passed since he failed to enter the national high school baseball tournament but he's still practicing his swing by throwing his bat a thousand times every day, hoping to turn pro. When he's at work he spends most of his time staring at his co-worker Mami, a high school girl that Nanba seems to have a crush on, but Mami is not interested.

On his way home one day Nanba sees a woman in a drunken rage kicking a car. When the car's owner comes out and grabs her, Nanba hits him in the knee with his bat and runs off with the woman. Her name is Eiko and she turns out to be a huge baseball fan and a violent alcoholic. To be able to afford Eiko's drinking habits when his hours are cut down at the convenience store, Nanba and Eiko start robbing people and soon they are wanted by the police.

Ishioka is a bicycle policeman and one of Nanba's teammates from school. Ishioka was the star pitcher for the team and managed to get all the way to the national tournament finals but because of an elbow injury he had leave the game of baseball and became a police officer instead. He's not a very motivated one though, spending most of his time ignoring crimes or making shoplifting housewives show him their panties, even though he's married.

One thing they all have in common except for their love of baseball is, they're all losers. Their lives are full of failed attempts and missed opportunities. Nanba never became a baseball player, Ishioka peaked playing in the finals in high school and has spent the last ten years being bitter. You never really get to know anything about Eiko's past, but surely becoming a penniless drunk living in a one room appartment with an equally penniless guy like Nanba wasn't part of the plan.

I really like this film, the eccentric, sometimes crazy behaviour of its characters, especially Eiko, is sometimes laugh-out-loud funny and even though their lives are pretty bleak and not much good happens, it is obvious that Kumakiri cares for his characters despite, or because of, their faults.

Pistol Takehara and Maki Sakai as Nanba and Eiko.

It's been about four years since I watched this film for the first and only other time and it was interesting to me how differently I perceived it this time. The difference comes from changes in life situation. When I first watched it, I could really relate to the lonely, part-time worker Nanba who wanted to do something completely different from working in a convenience store. Meeting a woman by chance, who happens to be "stacked" and really into the same things you are also seems to be a fantasy of a lot of anime and asian cinema geeks. Despite not much good happening to the characters, the film kind of played like a modest dream come true, and even though everyone in it is kind of crazy, Kumakiri infuses the film with a warm realism.

Watching it now it's more about failed attempts and missed opportunities. Nanba never played in the finals, he was on the cheerleading squad, Ishioka messed up his elbow and had to switch careers losing his girlfriend in the process. Eiko is a drunk. Identification is gone, it's more of an understanding now. This time it's maybe even easier to relate to the bitter, tired of his job, cheat Ishioka than to Nanba. Things change.

What sets Green Mind, Metal Bats apart though from other films where I've noticed that my perception of them has changed is that it's not a case of not appreciating it anymore, or having it go from the true excitement of watching the action movies of my childhood to watching them with a sense of irony or tongue in cheek. With Green Mind, Metal Bats it's purely a change of character identification, a change in my, as a spectator, life situation. It doesn't have to do with maturity, my understanding of the characters is about the same. But still Kumakiri manages to invoke the same feelings for his characters in me, I still care about them, I want them to do well. What wouldn't I give for Nanba to perfect his swing and go pro.

In the end when Nanba and Ishioka finally face off, and Nanba says "I'm having the time of my life" and Ishioka answers "I know" you can feel it. No matter who you are watching this film, Kumakiri makes you feel for his characters and that makes Green Mind, Metal Bats a truly great film.