VIFF 2014: Japanese blockbuster to tell Vancouver's Asahi baseball team story

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      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.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at




      Sep 6, 2014 at 10:33am

      A Japanese blockbuster eh...what was the budget of this thing?

      Sounds like an intriguing historical story but probably no chance alongside 'quality' movies like Transformers. Any chance it'll show up at one of our independent theatres in town?

      Martin Dunphy

      Sep 6, 2014 at 12:46pm

      Even thinly veiled sarcasm is a dead art, Nigel.


      Sep 6, 2014 at 2:12pm

      Sorry Martin...sarcasm was only intended at cinemax and their taj mahal multiplexes.


      Sep 7, 2014 at 12:42am

      Thanks Craig for writing about the film. The Asahi story is part of Vancouver's history and it's not known by most people in Vancouver. That's what I love about film - the opportunity for great stories and for people to learn. I have a personal connection. My grandfather was a pitcher for the Asahi. He didn't talk much about it or the internment so it's an opportunity for me to learn too.


      Sep 7, 2014 at 10:17am

      I wish I could attend the gala but there are no more tix! : ( miss u tsumabuki
      A historically relevant local story now is told on the big screen. I am sure it will be good!


      Sep 8, 2014 at 7:50am

      My son has a small part as right outfielder and a bar scene as one of the opposing Mount Pleasant team members. It was a wonderful experience for him, especially being a Canadian living in Japan, so if you see it watch for #6 Tallest guy:). It looks like it will be an amazing story to watch. I only wish I lived near Vancouver instead of Ontario so I can be there!


      Sep 28, 2014 at 10:29pm

      Article correction: They were not inducted in the Vancouver Baseball Hall of Fame (no such thing exists anymore) - they have been inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame as well as the BC Sports Hall of Fame.

      John Yamamura

      Nov 28, 2014 at 1:25am

      It's nice to know that Asahi baseball lives on. My dad's uncles played for them..their names were Ken and Roy Yamamura. Roy was a shortstop and Men was either a backcatcher or firstbase(not sure here) They(Asahi) have left a lasting impression...knowing that they made a difference to the lives of the Japanese Canadians at that time. I have not seen the movie but waiting for the English translation/subtitle version. Lastly,to .Mr Kamahishi, the last Asahi which I had the pleasure to meet at Oppenheimer Park at the unveiling of the memorial plaque to the Asahi baseball team, thank you for being an Asahi...along side my two great uncles...Ken and Roy Yamamura. PS. The Asahi live again in a newly formed team called the Asahi...I don't know which field they out of, but I did read it in a lower mainland magazine. Anyway,to the old Asahi and to the new Asahi. Gambate!