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A Psychological Drama/Comedy Disguised as a Baseball Movie
Review In One Breath: Probably the most unorthodox baseball movie on planet earth, this film is more concerned with psychological "dramedy" that uses the sport itself as a backdrop in daily life. The lead character (named Nanba) is a repressed former baseball player who interacts with strange individuals (a drunk lady with a penchant for violence, the rumored illegitimate Japanese son of Babe Ruth, etc.). Just when you think it can't get any better, Ando Masanobu shows up as a surly cop named Ishioka with a dysfunctional marriage. The humor is excellent and executed in vintage Japanese style with well-developed laissez-faire characters who have a restrained detestation for all of existence. Very different, but highly enjoyable.
I never get excited about baseball movies. Not only is baseball the most boring sport on planet earth (I'd rather watch the World Poker Tour than MLB), but the clichés of the genre are almost impossible to avoid. Typically, you get a protagonist player who battles against adversity to win a big game at the end of the movie. Yada yada yada. To be honest, the only reason I rented this was because of Ando Masanobu. After witnessing his powerhouse performance as Kiriyama in "Battle Royale" (2000), I've been on the lookout for his subsequent roles. Still, I wasn't exactly frothing at the mouth with this one as it creeped to the top of my rental queue.
"Green Minds, Metal Bats" shattered my expectations within the opening 15 minutes, then proceeded to beat them to a pulp for the remaining running time. The most surprising aspect is that at no point is an actual baseball game shown for any significant length of time. Two of the lead characters are former amateur players, but the flashbacks are so short that the aura of the "big game" is completely absent. Instead, the game of baseball forever lurks as a part of these people's daily lives. Nanba has his bat in hand at all times not unlike a samurai with his sword as he walks the streets of his neighborhood. By the way, he uses it for a lot more than baseball practice! This interesting influence of a sport on daily life is what drives the film into thoroughly unorthodox territory. The finale is of course baseball related, but even the climax is completely devoid of the "big game" feel, opting instead for a much more personal, low-key event.
Another important point to make is that this film has zero melodrama. None whatsoever. So those viewers who would rather avoid that type of emotional manipulation can safely watch "Green Minds, Metal Bats" with no worries. I would describe this film as "Train Man" (2005) meets "Adrenaline Drive" (1999). You get the introverted psychology of the former with the undercranked Bonnie and Clyde crimes of the latter. The pacing is slow, but there's a lot of attention-grabbing stuff to keep one glued to the screen.
I highly recommend this to those who want something different. God bless the Japanese for their cinematic weirdness. :)
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