Imagine a Japanese version of Coach Carter, exchange basketball for baseball, and you have this film in a nutshell. Ryuta Sato takes on the role of Kawato Koichi, a maverick coach who galvanizes the high school baseball club and leads them to a place in the prestigious Koshien Tournament. Described on the Glasgow Film Festival website as Japan’s biggest box office success of 2009, I entered the cinema with relatively high expectations. I should have known better.
For starters the film is unbearably cheesy throughout: far too much talk of ‘dreams’ and ‘destiny’ for my liking. It’s just a baseball game! After about twenty minutes of bad acting and incoherent dialogue there is a scene where one of the players says something like “we’re all going to Koshien.” Cue sentimental music, big smiles and slow motion.
The reason Coach Carter gets away with a little cheese is because it portrays sport as a means for underprivileged students to reach university and a better way of life. My main problem with Rookies relates to the character development or lack there of: little time is dedicated to backstory and the result is a feeling of detachment. By the end of the film I couldn’t have cared less which team won, just so long as it was over.
I’m trying to avoid the clichéd “there’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back,” but it just seems so fitting in this case. The last twenty minutes are a succession of gushing speeches and tearful goodbyes directed at coach Koichi. One would have been more than enough, thanks.
The French Kissers (Les Beaux Gosses)
A story of teenage angst, The French Kissers is somewhere in between American Pie and Superbad but told with a decidedly French sensibility. The film follows the geeky character of Hervé (Vincent Lacoste) and his obsession with the opposite sex, in particular the popular Aurore (Alice Trémolière) with whom he starts up an awkward relationship.
I’m not sure how much this is down to the fact that I had just seen Rookies but I found The French Kissers to be a thoroughly refreshing and amusing take on a subject which has become all too familiar. The dialogue is sharp and the acting is of a generally high standard in spite of the cast’s relative youth. Noémie Lvosky is also fantastic in her role as Hervé’s mother: inquisitorial and embarrassing as only a mother can be.
Having written, directed and starred in the film, Riad Sattouf is someone to look out for in the future. In this, his directorial debut, he shows a skill and vision which belie his inexperience. French humour and culture are effortlessly blended with an essentially American format to create a film with the edginess of Juno and the quirkiness of Amélie. À voir!
Whilst at the festival I was lucky enough to be able to attend the first Scottish screening of Scott Cooper’s latest film. A full review will be printed in the next issue of The Saint so you’ll just have to wait!
– Ross Dickie