Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Mr. Baseball


I thought a better title might have been Mr. Besuboru … but then most people wouldn’t know what it meant. That’s the way Japanese speakers pronounce baseball. No kidding. Tom Selleck is a ballplayer whose best years are behind him (haven’t we seen this story before?). He gets traded to a team in Japan, where large white guys can sometimes beat the tar out of little Japanese guys, at least in the hitting department. Selleck is a head taller than anyone around him most of the time. It reminded me of being in Hong Kong, walking down the street, seeing nothing but a sea of black hair as viewed from above. He has a hard time adjusting to Japanese customs and ways of doing things, partly because he doesn’t want to. Japanese teams tend to devalue the individual, just as Japanese society does. They usually try to seek a consensus where an American would stick to his guns, or even fight. If a team loses, the manager and even the owners lose face as well as a game. They are less likely to take chances, holding on first base when an American would charge for second. Americans probably tend to over-glorify individualism, but both ways of living have their points. The best solution is probably somewhere in between, and this movie makes that point by having Selleck gradually see the merits of the other system, and at the same time show the team some new and more aggressive ways of play, and (surprise!) fall in love with the manager’s beautiful daughter.

I don’t know if all the things said about Japanese baseball here are true, but there are serious differences in the two games. In Japan you can have tie games after 15 innings, or 10 o’clock, whichever comes first. The dimensions of the field are slightly smaller. The pitching is different. We see several playing fields in this movie, and all but one of them have dirt both on the base paths and covering the whole infield. It’s ugly as hell; I’m surprised the beauty-loving Japanese stand for it. On the other hand, one field does have a grass infield … and on all the base paths, too. It looks like cow pasture baseball, with the bases just sitting there on the grass. Japanese fans are just as rabid as American ones, and much more demonstrative, waving flags and throwing confetti and such, never letting up for the entire game. And, of course, instead of crackerjack and hot dogs, they eat bowls of noodles and tasty dried squid on a stick.

The movie is a lot better than I expected, with a lot of good lines and a plot which, though fairly standard, takes me places I haven’t been before. Worth seeing.