Sushi Typhoon – Part 8: Deadball

November 21, 2011

Deadball (Japan, 2011)

The secret of good health: never do sports! Yudai Yamaguchi and Tak Sakaguchi have developed their own breed of sports movies in which the team that dies first loses. 2003’s Battlefield Baseball brought a healthy dose of sports violence to the screens, but gore meters were kept in check due to Japan’s splatter-anemic home audiences. Now the Guchi-duo is back – with financing from Japan’s official export-trash maestro Yoshinori Chiba and the Sushi Typhoon label. More blood, more Nazis, and one Klaus Nomi lookalike!

Deadball’s got something to live up to, Battlefield Baseball having been (despite its limited splatter) a benchmark in sports dramas. And it does put up a good fight – initially at least. Clumsy CGI opening aside Deadball soon finds its own gear – not as a sports movie, but as a seriously deranged prison fighting film set to a John Carpenter esque score! Talk about quality cinema!

The storyline is a follows: Sakaguchi returns to his Battlefield Baseball role as Yakyu Yubei (a name which is a reference to both the legendary samurai Yaguy Yubei and baseball, which is “yakyu” in Japanese). It’s the same character Saku played in Battlefield Baseball, except that it isn’t (I know, it doesn’t make sense, but neither does the film). Yubei-kun is a 17 year old youth criminal (portrayed by the 35 year old Sakaguchi) suffering from childhood trauma: he accidentally killed his father with a baseball. Now, trapped in a prison run by Neo-Nazis, he’s forced to grab the bat once again and play for his life.

For the first 45 minutes the filthy comedy hits non-stop home runs. Yamaguchi makes most out of his “artistic” freedom with a classic body check sequence, and an even more amazing telephone fight that could potentially amuse the audience to death. Unfortunately, once the game is on, it’s downhill almost all the way.

The anti-climatic match that takes most of the film’s second half is essentially an extended CGI joke. Bargain budget CGI is plenty and covers nearly all special effects from baseballs to gore effects – even though horror fans around the world are known to dislike computer graphics. The level of insane inventiveness that was reached in Battlefield Baseball with practical effects is sadly not found in Deadball. Even the opposing team – a psychotic girl’s highs school class of sexy killers (made of real life ero-dancers), come out underwhelming.

Sakaguchi’s performance saves a lot, though. He’s always been an honest and competent action man with the street cred, but he’s never been especially high on charisma – until now. The silent, chain smoking, poncho wearing badass is easily Sakaguchi’s coolest performance so far. Itäs also his funnies, with Saku underplaying all his reactions to a hysterical effect.

The film does provide some additional reward for the patient viewers during its last few minutes, though. The gloriously dumb ending is confusing enough to make the audience wonder if film reels were played in the wrong order. But is it too late? Maybe so. For fans of charming old school effects (which helped the new wave JP splatter earn its fame) this new CGI trend is worrying indeed.

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