Battlefield Baseball: Special Edition DVD Review
Written by Eric Strauss
DVD released by Subversive Cinema
Directed by Yudai Yamaguchi
Written by Yudai Yamaguchi and Gataro Man
2005, Region 1 (NTSC), 97 minutes, Not Rated
DVD Released May 31st, 2005
Let’s be honest, sports fans: Baseball movies are almost always feel-good chick flicks.
Bull Durham is about romance. Field of Dreams is about hope. The Rookie is a lesson in perseverance. For Love of the Game is about … well, who the hell knows what that one’s about?
And really, who cares? The point is, baseball movies aren’t for guys. They’re a way for girls to get guys to watch chick flicks.
Except, of course, Major League. That one’s for guys.
But alpha males looking for another baseball movie to call their own probably won’t wind up looking to Battlefield Baseball, despite the promising title and ample amount of blood on the box cover.
Don’t get me wrong. Battlefield Baseball is anything but a chick flick. But what it is, is hard to define.
Battlefield Baseball is strange.
Very, very strange.
Baseball is huge in Japan, and the Japanese professional leagues have exported stars such as Hideki Matsui, Ichiro Suzuki and Hideo Nomo to the American Major Leagues.
And Ryuhei Kitamura, director of the samurai-vs.-zombie hit Versus, is trying to capitalize on that craze with help from some old friends.
In fact, the Battlefield Baseball credits look like a Versus reunion and Subversive Cinema bills the DVD as “From the team that brought you Versus.” Kitamura is the producer, and his Versus co-writer, Yudai Yamaguchi, is the director. And the names on either side of the “vs.” — Tak Sakaguchi and Hideo Sakaki — are not the only familiar ones atop the cast and crew list.
But if the cast and crew are similar, the movies are very, very different.
Nominally, Battlefield Baseball — adapted from manga by Gataro Man — is the story of the Seido High School team’s quest to reach the championship tournament.
But this low-budget geek fest is no serious sports movie.
In fact, there isn’t much baseball in Battlefield Baseball. Now that I think about it, after the opening scene, there isn’t any at all. There are bats, there is an umpire, but there is no actual playing.
What there is, is an effort to create an instant low-budget “Asian cult classic,” and that means buckets of fake blood, over-the-top violence, schoolgirl uniforms and a number of bizarre encounters along the way.
The strangest one is with rival Gedo High, a team made up of blue-skinned zombies — or so they’re described on the box cover; the movie never explicitly says they’re living dead — that plays a lawless, homicidal version of the game, literally crushing every player and team in its way.
And sure enough, the designated killers — led by the heavily made up Yukihito Tanikado as coach and an equally unrecognizable Sakaki as the captain — run roughshod over Seido and its star player, the power-hitting Matsui Gorilla.
That’s when coach Kocho gets desperate, and turns to a renegade newcomer, “Jubeh the Baseball” (Sakaguchi), in an effort to save the sporting world from the Gedo menace.
Armed with a deadly secret and a super-weapon he never actually uses, the mysterious pitcher Jubeh and his sidekick, the dreadful-fielding third baseman “Four Eyes” (Atsushi Ito), must pick up where Gorilla left off and stop Gedo before the crazed killers wreak havoc on Japan’s major leagues.
Cue even more fighting, even less sport, two false endings and an almost unbearable amount of cheesiness.
The good news is, Tak Sakaguchi remains charismatic, and there’s a certain amount of humor seeing him playing it straight in a movie where everyone else — everyone — is hamming it up. And he still can fight, which is clutch, because he sure can’t pitch. (On the commentary, the other participants tease him about his form, and he admits never playing baseball before.)
But even throwing like a girl, he’s the closest thing to “conventional” to be found in Battlefield Baseball.
It’s hard to review a pseudo-horror comedy that has no real plot, no realistic gore, blatantly phony action and more scenery-chewing than a William Shatner convention — and it’s even harder to endorse it. I will say this, though: Battlefield Baseball will keep you watching, if only to see what kind of screwball scene comes next.
And that may be the strangest twist of all. I enjoyed Battlefield Baseball. I can’t even begin to tell you why, and I can’t say I enjoyed it that much, but I did enjoy it.
Perhaps, like any good baseball team, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
A weird, disjointed, yet oddly appealing movie that epitomizes the term “winning ugly,” Battlefield Baseball looks like an easy out, but winds up more like a surprising infield single.
Video and Audio:
The anamorphic widescreen video is thoroughly unexceptional, with its washed-out, grainy picture. However, this looks like a problem with the original elements, and not any kind of flaw in the DVD mastering or compression.
This is a low-budget film and the cheapness shows in the picture quality, but Subversive deserves credit for putting out an anamorphic product. And that, as usual, ensures the best possible image — it’s not Subversive’s fault if there isn’t much to work with.
And frankly, if you’re using Battlefield Baseball as a DVD to showcase your big-screen TV, you really need to do some serious rethinking.
The anamorphic element is a hit, but the image won’t get past first base.
The Japanese Dolby 5.1 track is as uninspiring as the video, although this is not a film that relies on its sound in any way. There is little use of the surrounds, and the sound as a whole is flat and front-heavy, even during the various combat scenes.
Again, it is difficult to say whether the fault lies with the original elements, and Subversive certainly is to be commended for providing the surround mix.
The English subtitles, by contrast, are quite good, easy to read and devoid of all but the most minor of typos.
There is also a Dolby 2.0 mix, the first option on the audio menu — which says something on its own.
Like the video, the mix is a singles hitter in a DVD world whose standard is the home run.
The leadoff extra is an audio commentary, in Japanese with English subtitles, much like the principal one on Versus, featuring actor Shouichiro Masumoto as moderator for Yamaguchi, Sakaguchi and actor Hidetaka Nishio (who plays one incarnation of Bancho, a Seido enemy-turned-ally). While the information imparted is sometimes interesting, the foreign language, jokey style and unlabeled subtitles render the commentary basically incomprehensible as far as who is saying what and what is truth and what is not — a problem the similar Versus commentary also had.
The featurettes make up the heart of the order, starting with a two-part “making of” that runs almost an hour in its entirety. The first part, in the guise of a boy interviewing Sakaguchi, mixes humor and some interesting behind-the-scenes footage. The second part, on the other hand, is all behind-the-scenes. Unfortunately, quite a bit is repeated from the first part. Still, the total package offers a pretty interesting look at what went into the making of Battlefield Baseball.
Another featurette includes outtakes — which really lose something in the translation — and a series of deleted scenes.
Five short films, dubbed “foul balls,” are included, and they are every bit as strange as the film. I don’t want to spoil them, as some are quite funny, but suffice it to say the quintet includes everything from karaoke to toys to ramen noodles.
There are three trailers for Battlefield Baseball — which seem to be one big trailer cut into three parts — and five trailers of widely varying volume levels for other Subversive releases, including one for The Witch Who Came From the Sea and two for Living Hell.
And, at the bottom of the order, there’s an Easter egg that features the movie’s two musical numbers. Did I forget to mention those?
Erratic in quality and usefulness, the extras nonetheless offer far more than anyone watching could, or would, ever want. Subversive registers a good, solid extra-base hit in this department.
As more and more Asian cinema arrives in the United States via DVD, there is more and more opportunity to see the variety of movies made in places like Japan, Hong Kong and Korea. While the dominant genres imported thus far are action and horror, there are several examples that don’t fit either one, and Battlefield Baseball is one of those that defies easy description. There were plenty of times while watching it that I arched an eyebrow or stared at the screen in confusion, mouth agape, but ultimately, this mad scientist’s mix of horror, action and comedy endears with its silly charm.
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