Sunday, November 22, 2020

Koshien: Japan's Field of Dreams - Documentary Review

The Documentary: Koshien: Japan's Field of Dreams

The Director: Ema Ryan Yamazaki

The Story: Baseball is life for the die-hard competitors in the 100th annual Koshien, Japan's wildly popular national high school baseball championship, whose alumni include U.S. baseball star Shohei Ohtani and former Yankee Hideki Matsui. But for Coach Mizutani and his players, cleaning the grounds and greeting their guests are equally important as honing their baseball skills.

The Review:
Baseball in Japan is a completely different experience all the way around compared to what it looks like here in America. I mean, the rules are the same, the equipment is the same, and the basic function of the game is still the same but it's the emotion and energy and commitment from the players, the coaches, and the fans that goes well beyond the sport being the traditional past time that we have always known it to be. Director Ema Ryan Yamazaki starts off the documentary by showing how baseball became what it is today with momentum really getting underway after the ravages of World War II.

Once she establishes the whys of baseball in Japan, Yamazaki narrows her focus to Mizutani Kantoku life and career as a teacher and head coach for the Yokohama Hayato baseball team. Kantoku embodies the relentless determination to win at all costs that is a hallmark of Japanese baseball and in a lot of ways represents the culture as well although the director also makes sure to show how the long time head coach truly cares for his players and how he makes sure they takes lessons from their time on the team that will help them live their lives as adults in Japan.

The pressure to succeed is super intense in what is a single elimination tournament that starts with literally hundreds of high schools across the country and finishes with the final elimination games know as Koshien that are an annual tradition dwarfed by all other sporting events in the country. This is Japan's Super Bowl and World Series and NCAA tournament all rolled into one super charged package and has all been a breeding ground for Japanese baseball superstars like Shohei Ohtani, Hideki Matsui, and even current Seattle Mariners pitcher Yusei Kikuchi.

Being a lifelong fan of the Mariners and having played baseball for several years as a kid, this documentary was of special interest to me and it was fun to get to know more about how the game is taught and played in Japan. I feel like I have a better understanding of former Mariners players like Ichiro, Sasaki, and Jhojima along with what they must have had to overcome with the cultural differences playing between the two countries. It was also important to see the human side of the equation and the director gives that by exploring some family dynamics along with relationships between the players themselves.

The Verdict:
Koshien: Japan's Field of Dreams is a surprisingly intense and emotional story and director Ema Ryan Yamazaki hits a home run with this highly entertaining documentary about the biggest sporting even in Japan.

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