Judge Mac McEntire can't wait for Japan's next big sports action comedy, Combat Croquet.
Take me out to the ball game!
Facts of the Case
All the principal of Seido High School wants is a championship baseball team, and this just might be his year. He's rounded up a group of star players, with one exception: the klutzy "Four Eyes" (Atsushi Ito, Kakuto). But everyone's hopes are soon dashed when they learn Seido's next game is against sinister Gedo High, whose sadistic living-dead players have a habit of viciously killing their opponents.
But all is not lost. While retrieving a ball hit over a fence, Four Eyes witnesses school troublemaker Jubei Baseball (Tak Sakaguchi, Versus) dispatching some bullies with his patented baseball fighting style. Now Four Eyes must convince Jubei to overcome his personal demons and join the team, because the Gedo players are on their way, ready for the kill.
Bad movies are big business. In the '50s and '60s, wannabe auteurs like Ed Wood and Bert I. Gordon shot for Hollywood stardom and failed, only to have their films embraced years later by bad movie lovers all over the world. Seeing this phenomenon in action, other low-budget filmmakers sought to replicate their notorious stardom by making bad movies on purpose; throwing them together quickly and cheaply, and filling them with self-conscious humor. The filmmakers knew the effects and costumes looked fake, and that the film was obviously made in their own backyards, but they made no excuses for that. Some, such as Lloyd Kaufman of Troma fame, have turned purposefully bad movies into media empires. They're in on the joke, playing up their lack of high-mindedness in the hopes that we, the audience, will laugh right along with them. These filmmakers don't care if the movie has a gripping plot, intriguing characters, or lush visuals. As long as it offers the lowest-common-denominator elements of fake blood and juvenile humor, then everyone's happy.
That's the attitude behind Battlefield Baseball. It's a movie composed of nothing but obviously low-budget effects and stunts, covered in a thick layer of self-deprecating humor. It takes all the clichés of action movies and sports movies and twists them around. Dramatic moments, such as when Jubei decides to join the team, are followed by a crowd of extras walking in out of nowhere giving the actors a round of applause. This is anything-for-a-laugh filmmaking.
Although the movie delights in its own lack of continuity, I still have no choice but to give low marks to the story. Nothing makes sense. At one point, Jubei perfects his "super tornado" pitch in the hopes of using it against the enemy team…but then he never uses it. We're told the Gedo team can get away with slaughtering other players because they followed the rules of Battlefield Baseball—but later, when the game is actually played, much is made about how the game has no rules. There are hundreds of other examples. The plot goes nowhere, which is bound to frustrate some viewers.
On the other hand, it's a crazed over-the-top comedy, and everyone knows it. As a result, many of the actors scream their lines as if they're on the verge of hysterics. Every reaction shot is all bug-eyes and dropped jaws. Subtlety is not a friend to this film. Fans might enjoy the rampant silliness, but it gets to be too much after a while.
Fortunately, Tak Sakaguchi is a little more controlled. Having done the action hero thing in Versus, he knows how to pull off a tough guy image, and also how to spoof it. Somehow, he manages to pull off being cool and making fun of being cool at the same time. Never mind that he stole his look from Antonio Banderas in Desperado.
Adrenaline junkies might be wondering about the fight choreography. Like everything else, it's played for laughs. Action scenes are spliced with reaction shots of the extras being goofy. For every cool kung fu move, there's an accompanying slapstick gag. Overall, this movie is more about making you laugh and messing with your expectations than providing big thrills. Gore, however, is quite abundant, if more than a little phony-looking.
The picture, in its 1.85:1 widescreen transfer, is not as sharp as it could be, with colors often appearing hazy or washed-out. This could be the result of the film's low budget, though, and not the transfer. Sound fares much better, with a 5.1 enhanced surround track and a 2.0 Dolby surround track, both in Japanese with English subtitles. The dialogue, sound effects and the two cringe-inducing musical numbers make full use of the speakers.
The mysterious forces behind Subversive Cinema have filled the disc with numerous bonus features. First up is a commentary track, also in Japanese with English subtitles, featuring the director, some of the actors, and a Japanese comedian. They kid around a lot, but don't offer much real information about the movie itself. The two documentaries have strangely-staged interviews with Sakaguchi and director Yudai Yamaguchi, combined with behind the scenes footage. These reveal how some stunts were created, and show the actors horsing around between takes. A collection of outtakes and deleted scenes offer more behind-the-scenes screwiness. Two short films and a karaoke music video make little sense, and there are five trailers for other Subversive releases, all of which appear to be trashy '70s sleaze pictures.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Are you getting tired of pretentious art house movies? Have you had your fill of directors who have a message? Or directors who are so into perfecting their craft that they spend hours setting up a single shot? Are you sick to death of seeing the same old stories in movies, where you can tell how the whole thing is going to end after the first ten minutes? Have you had enough of the same old thing over and over? Do you wish that some maverick filmmaker would come along and toss all the usual conventions aside and create something so trashy and stupid and pointless that it flies in the face of convention? If so, then you might just be up for nine innings of Battlefield Baseball.
It's a bad movie, and yet that's all it ever aspires to be. If you're a lover of low-budget sleaze and weirdness, this one's got your name all over it. But if you prefer your movies to have things like, say, a story, then you'll want to pass.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Subversive Cinema
• Commentary Track
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