Film Review: Kano

Article by Kevin Young
Photo credit Niko

Remember the Titians meets baseball is the perfect way to describe Taiwanese actor, Umin Boya’s director debut film, Kano. Kano depicts the true story of a multiracial high school baseball team from Taiwan who are poor immigrants and sons of farmers getting the opportunity to compete in Japan’s elite high school baseball competition at Koshien stadium.

Coached by Hyotaro Kondo, (Masatoshi Nagase) turning a bunch of belligerent rowdy teenagers who end up brawling with another local village baseball team, into well disciplined players was no easy task. Kondo was able to do it because of his extensive history as a famous Japanese baseball player and his strict stringent training methodology. The players would wake up at the crack of dawn running laps around the whole village chanting “Koshien.”

The team goes from not being able to win any games or even score a single point to playing in the championship match in Koshien stadium. The multiethnic team of Chinese, Aboriginals, and Japanese shows a convergence of youths learning and growing together because of a shared desire to win. When Kondo is asked by the press after their first victory in Koshien, why he has non-Japanese players on his team, Kondo defends his players citing that each player has a specific skill that contributes to the team.

The film decided not to focus on the racial tensions Taiwan had being colonized by Japan during this time period but instead on how a team of underdogs rose to garner international fame. Their mantra was to “never give up until the end.”

Nagase does a phenomenal job of portraying the emotionless and prideful coach who cares very deeply for his team despite not showing it. Nagase even keeps up this performance in the presence of Kondo’s own children and wife nearly treating them as if they are his own players. This was done intentionally to represent this pre World War II time period.

Out of all the players the Chinese pitcher Wu Ming-jie (Tso Yu-ning) is the one that stands out. He serves as the team’s ace striking out batter after batter. In the championship match Ming-jie cuts his hand yet perseveres through the pain to finish the game. You can see the blood running down his hand, eventually coating the ball yet even after Kondo wants to take him out of the game Ming-Jie refuses. This shows the stark opposition to how the players started to where they are now. Ming-jie’s dedication is so strong he grasps the soil from the ground to add more grip to his pitching. The character of Ming-jie portrays the general message of the film that you shouldn’t give up until the end and with practice even underdogs can become victorious.

Umin Boya, deserves credit for spending over three years to perfect the film from conducting research to casting real athletes. He talked with numerous Japanese and Taiwanese scholars and nearly searched at all the universities in Taiwan to cast the baseball players. This film is for those who like baseball and for those who like to see the story of unlikely individuals achieving success.

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