When it was first announced way back in 2013 that The Vancouver Asahi will have Satoshi Tsumabuki and Kazuya Kamenashi among the cast, I am quite confident I will do whatever it takes to watch this movie. I am aware that many sports drama films (coming from Hollywood and elsewhere) are - more often than not - glossed over to highlight particular sport's milestone. I would not be bothered if this movie follows the formula, just to watch this latest directorial attempt from Yuya Ishii is already enough for me.
Reports have it that it was only Tsumabuki who has no prior knowledge of the sport and has to undergo training. I am thinking this would not be a big deal since the spotlight might be on Kame, but I was dead wrong. I'm happy (ecstatic even) that it was Tsumabuki who grabbed the biggest share of the movie - his scenes were not only important and telling, his character runs the show!
Based on a true story of the Vancouver Asahi team, a group of second-generation Japanese immigrants living in Canada, The Vancouver Asahi is both a sports drama and a close-up look at the Japanese during turbulent times.
Reggie (Tsumabuki) works at a sawmill in Vancouver. He is a nice young fellow who minds his own business and prefers to remain on the sidelines. He is the baseball team's leader. Roy (Kazuya Kamenashi) works as a fisherman. He is Reggie's opposite - he's feisty and hot-tempered but is an ideal son. He works hard to make sure his sick Mom gets her meds. He is the team's ace pitcher. Other members are Kaye (Ryo Katsuji), he's the team's 2nd baseman and works with Reggie at the mill. Tom (Yusuke Kamiji) is the team's catcher and works at a tofu shop. Frank (Sosuke Ikematsu) who is a bellboy at a local inn/hotel rounds up the group.
Due to the severe condition at the worksites, some players left the team for good. This situation forced Reggie to assume leadership. He was hesitant at the beginning, and the thoughts of humiliation at losing every match are almost too much to bear. But he loves to play the game, and it was this passion that finally gave them the opportunity to change their gameplan. Soon enough, the tide turned in their favor, and they began to score.
You will witness a different Satoshi Tsumabuki here - his signature "crying game" style is not evident and what we have is a determined and passionate baseball player who talks little and let his actions speak for himself. His relationship with his family - his younger sister (Mitsuki Takahata) whom he adores a lot, his Mom (Eri Ishida) and his Dad (Koichi Sato) is one of the most interesting side stories, especially his intense, almost confrontational approach towards his father (Sato).
Certain scenes were highlighted to provide dramatic effects - Ikematsu as a bellboy getting discriminated by a Caucasian customer and seeing him join the Japanese army at the other side of the world. Mitsuki Takahata (Reggie's sister) making an impassioned speech to rally support for the team. Kame was attacking a taller, stronger Canadian player and falling flat on his face; the Japanese community forced to abandon their homes and livelihood at the start of the war.
The thrill of the sport is but one part of the movie, and it's absorbing to watch the Japanese adapt to a seemingly difficult and harsh environment, coupled with the fact that the discrimination against them is so pronounced.
Not only is The Vancouver Asahi a testament to the triumph of the human spirit, but it also showcase a different side of the war, and that baseball is not an exclusive sport for the tall and the mighty.