Japantown wins again in Vancouver Asahi

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      Starring Satoshi Tsumabuki. Rating unavailable. In Japanese and English, with English subtitles.

      Although most of The Vancouver Asahi was shot in Japan, the film’s production department makes a plausible and lovingly crafted stab at rebuilding Vancouver’s Japantown of the 1930s and ’40s, when the titular baseball team was at the height of its popularity. The attractively shot clapboard houses, improvised storefronts, and muddy streets, in fact, take pride of place over in-depth human behaviour in this 130-minute effort, which ends with that world irrevocably lost in early 1942 with the beginning of the internment.

      The only personalities—all fictional—developed here are those in the family of Reiji “Reggie” Kasahara (Heart of a Samurai’s Satoshi Tsumabuki), who puts baseball above the wishes of his hard-drinking dad, played by veteran Kôichi Satô. As the screenplay from Wolf Children’s Satoko Okudera tells us at least four times, the team feels overwhelmed by the size and strength of the white players—mirroring their social positions, with Japanese Canadians kept segregated, harassed, and earning pennies on the dollar of their Anglo counterparts in blue-collar jobs.

      Eventually, Reggie and the team come up with a strategy that local papers dub “brain ball”. The bare-bones script puts down to mid-Depression luck and personal quirks a technique that coach Harry Miyasaki actually developed in the 1920s. And the team (whose name means “sunrise”) had already won an international championship in 1919. Oh well. The yellow-filtered baseball scenes are nice.

      It’s easy to argue that Yûya Ishii’s visually repetitive and pause-laden direction reflects the anxious, taciturn people he’s depicting. Still, it’s hard to believe that the tale’s young, Canadian-born principals would speak so little English. Apparently, most of its white “actors” were recruited from the U.S. navy, which no doubt explains why one would-be Mountie, approaching Japanese fishermen who’ve just docked, insists, “I’ll have to check your boots,” as he walks past them to their boats.