You might be aware that baseball is one of Japan's most popular sports. But did you know that a Japanese Canadian baseball team from Vancouver once ruled the Pacific Northwest?
It's true and it's a part of the city's history.
The team was formed by Japanese Canadians in 1914 and they played in Oppenheimer Park, where Japantown was based. A commemorative plaque for the team was unveiled in the park in 2011. They were inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003.
The National Film Board of Canada made a documentary in 2003 about the team called Sleeping Tigers: The Asahi Baseball Story.
That film utilized archival footage, interviews, and re-creations to tell the story of how this team won the Pacific Northwest Championship five times in a row.
Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 during the Second World War and the internment of Japanese Canadians, who were relocated to the B.C. Interior by the Canadian government, brought a halt to their winning streak.
Nonetheless, many of the players continued to play baseball to help them cope with life in the internment camps, and the sport helped to build bridges between Japanese and non-Japanese people.
This year, the story will be retold, getting a big-budget treatment from Japan.
The Vancouver Asahi (Bankuba no Asahi, formerly entitled The Rising Sun Over Vancouver), a Japan-Canada coproduction, is directed by Ishii Yuya (whose films Bare-assed Japan and Mitsuko Delivers have previously screened at VIFF).
The film follows the stories of nisei (second generation) players who struggle against racism and poverty in their lives, as well as intergenerational tensions.
Reji "Reggie" Kasahara (Satoshi Tsumabuki) works at a sawmill and is the leader of the team who also plays shortstop. Roi "Roy" Naganishi (Kazuya Kamenashi) is the team's ace pitcher who works at a fishery field. Kei Kitamoto (Ryo Katsuji) is the team's second baseman and co-worker of Reji. Tom Miyake (Yusuke Kamiji) is the catcher and works at a tofu shop. Frank Nojima (Sosuke Ikematsu) works at a hotel and plays third baseman.
At the VIFF launch event, programming director Alan Franey told the Georgia Straight that the film was not shot here but in a studio in Japan, which re-created scenes of Vancouver.
The film will have its world premiere at a special gala presentation at VIFF. It will screen on September 29, and October 4 and 10.
The film is one of two selections at this year's festival that highlight Vancouver's historical Asian Canadian communities. The other film is Everything Will Be, a documentary by local filmmaker Julia Kwan that captures how citizens feel about changes to Vancouver's Chinatown, which neighbours the former Japantown.