Film review: Kano - period piece captures spirit of Taiwanese teens' baseball exploits
Masatoshi Nagase, Tsao Yu-ning, Ken Aoki
Director: Umin Boya
In Cape No 7 (2008) and Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale (2011), Taiwanese screenwriter/filmmaker Wei Te-sheng cast his attention towards the period when his country was ruled by Japan (1895-1945). But this time it seems the rose-tinted glasses have somewhat obscured his view of the past.
Kano can be seen as a film about baseball and about how sport can help bring people hope and also to rise above their station in life. And for fans of that particular game, there's plenty to like about this true-life tale (co-produced by Wei) that follows a multiracial team of students from the island as they qualify for the 1931 Japanese high school championships held at Koshien Stadium.
Led by a steely-faced coach (Masatoshi Nagase), this band of misfits unites and inspires their local community, forms unlikely bonds and rises up to beat the odds. Director Umin Boya finds a nice blend of action on the mound - from dusty rural backblocks to the big-city tournament itself - and depictions of everyday rural life as he seeks to drum home what an extraordinary achievement this must have been.
Things are helped by the charismatic turns provided by his cast, led by Tsao Yu-ning as the team's gun pitcher, and by the sometimes lengthy action scenes which make the viewer feel as though they are peering over the fence and soaking up the tension.
There are deep themes of identity at play, both of the personal and national variety, but the drum never beats too loudly despite a running time of more than three hours. The respect the filmmakers obviously have for the game, for its passions and its rituals, is another force that drives the narrative and never allows the action to become bogged down or repetitive.
However, the film presents a breezy picture of life under occupation with little effort made to portray what were trying times for many on the island. This may be a small matter, given the film is so focused on showing how people from disparate backgrounds can work together, but it may still niggle at the back of your mind.