|Directed by||Yudai Yamaguchi|
|Produced by||Ryuhei Kitamura|
|Written by||Gatarō Man|
|Editing by||Shuichi Kakesu|
|Distributed by|| Klock
Starmedia Home Entertainment
|Release date(s)||July 19, 2003|
|Running time||87 minutes|
Battlefield Baseball (地獄甲子園 Jigoku Kōshien , "Hell Stadium") is a 2003 Japanese film directed by Yudai Yamaguchi. The film is written by Gatarō Man, based on his manga series of the same name, and stars Tak Sakaguchi, Atsushi Itō, and Hideo Sakaki. It was produced by Ryuhei Kitamura.
The film is a combination of several genres, mixing martial arts action with the clichés of the sports film—particularly skewering baseball, one of Japan's most popular high school sports—and the violence and brutality of a horror film. The film's bizarre—sometimes almost incoherent—plot, blood and gore, and unique comedy have given it something of a "cult" popularity in the West.
It's every high school baseball team's dream to go to the legendary Koshien Stadium Tournament. For the first time in years, Seido High School has a chance—star player Gorrila Matsui has finally given the team an opportunity to succeed. Most delighted at this prospect is Principal Kocho. His hopes are dashed, however, when the Head teacher reveals to him that the first game will be played against the infamous Gedo High School.
Gedo is notorious for its brutal killings during games. They hardly play at all, instead engaging in a form of martial arts combat called "fighting baseball". Their matches erupt into brutal battlefields, Gedo slaughtering its opponents in any way possible, and the competing team vainly struggling for their lives. The Gedo team is almost inhuman in its slaughter, their bizarre weapons and attire coupled with their green-grey skin only increase this reputation. Understandably, Kocho is distressed—not only at the likely murder of his students, but at yet another chance to win the Koshien Stadium Tournament having been lost.
Much to his delight, however, is the appearance of mysterious newcomer Jubeh, played by Tak Sakaguchi. Jubeh rescues Four Eyes (Megane, so named because of his eyeglasses.), played by Atsushi Itō, from a gang of expelled students, beating Bancho (Japanese for "boss" or "leader") and catching Kocho's eye. He begs and pleads with Jubeh to join the team to help them defeat Gedo, but he steadfastly refuses. During this time Kocho and Jubeh are also confronted by a resurrected Bancho, though his "face changed". Bancho joins the team, explaining that the injuries that prevented him from playing baseball were cured by Jubeh's punches.
When confronted by Four Eyes, Jubeh reveals why he has stopped playing baseball–in song. He musically laments his pitching skill, explaining how he became so skilled he was a danger to himself and others. Only his father, his hand confined to an absurdly huge catcher's mitt, will allow Jubeh to pitch. He soon regrets this, however, when an accidental ball to the head kills him. Jubeh vows never to pitch again.
Despite this sorowful story, Four Eyes insists that Jubeh join the team, explaining his own plight. His mother hates baseball, and would be furious if he were to play. As a result, he must keep his presence on the Seido team a secret. Four Eyes' sheer love for the game touches Jubeh deeply, and he joins the team.
However, when the game against Gedo starts, Jubeh is nowhere to be found. As a result, the team is, predictably, slaughtered by the Gedo students. Jubeh gets there in time to hear Gorilla's last words. Finding a body he believes to be Four Eyes', Jubeh laments the loss, before realising that it's in fact a Gedo trap. The "body" explodes, hurling Jubeh across the field, sending him to an early grave.
Jubeh finds himself in a sepia-toned small town street in the afterlife. He sees a man he has not seen for some time–his father. He convinced Jubeh to embrace his pitching skills, and defeat Gedo once and for all. Jubeh pledges to do so as he watches his father ride off. Returning from the afterlife, he introduces his pitch, dubbed the "Super Tornado". Bancho also returns, again, this time as a child. He too met Jubeh's father in the afterlife, and was given his catcher's mitt.
In the meantime, somehow Four Eyes' mother has discovered that he was on the baseball team. Keeping him locked up in a cage, she watches over him day & night. Jubeh comes to his rescue, fighting his mother. He confronts her, asking her why she hates baseball so much. She reveals that her husband was killed by a baseball pitcher. All three come to a sudden realization—They are family. In jubilation, Four Eyes' mother gives him permission to play.
Kocho, Bancho, Jubeh, and Four Eyes, having formed a new Seido team, confront Gedo. The Gedo coach mocks the size and strength, or more accurately the lack thereof, of the new team. Much to his surprise however, several new team members show up—Head Teacher and Gorilla, now cyborgs, having been resurrected by "advanced technology", one of the school's cheerleaders, and Four Eyes' mother all team up to defeat Gedo.
Ultimately, all except Jubeh and the Gedo coach have been knocked unconscious. They duel with elaborate baseball bats, before Jubeh is knocked to the ground. Then, the Gedo coach unviels his ultimate weapon: the Gedo Poison Bat. Filled with a combination of deadly poisons and healing herbs, the effect is to create a horrific pain that will last for "hundreds of years." The coach slams it down onto Jubeh—However, Four Eyes has sacrificed himself, jumping in the way of the coach's attack. Jubeh, furious at the loss of his brother, leaps up and bitterly attacks the coach. However, before he can kill the coach, the Gedo players plead for his life, explaining how he brought them out of orphanages and became like a father to them. Seeing their heartfelt plea, Jubeh can't help but allow the coach to live.
Happily, the coach gains a newfound respect for life, and throws a bottle of antidote to Jubeh. A crowd gathers, and the sun begins to shine. However, this peace is soon is interrupted by one member of the Gedo team, his head wrapped in bandages. He guns down everyone on the field, firing randomly and hitting everything in sight, including his own teammates. Jubeh manages to escape only through his own dexterity and the gunman's limited ammo. Looking around in outrage, Jubeh sheds a tear. As cherry blossoms fall, everyone on the field returns to life, before Jubeh attacks the bandaged gunman, literally knocking the muscles off his bones.
Joyously, the crowd celebrates, and the narrator states that they lived happily ever after—Including the one person on the field that day who wasn't resurrected by Jubeh's tears.
The reaction to the film has been for the most part lukewarm. Though many praised its irreverent and unique style, others found the purposefully ludicrous plot hard to follow and indicative of a lack of effort on the screenwriter's part. However, the film did win the Grand Prize at the 14th Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival held in February 2003. Director Yūdai Yamaguchi was a guest at the festival.
The film has been compared with other Japanese films featuring baseball prominently. For instance, one reviewer compared it to 1992's Mr. Baseball, explaining that it was better than that film due to a relative lack of actual baseball. The parodic aspect of the film takes so much precedence that the clichés of baseball films are skewered more than baseball itself.
One of the key aspects of the film is its intentional strangeness. The strangest aspects of the plot (the frequent reappearances of a crowd and an alcoholic man, Head Teacher and Gorilla returning as cyborgs, etc.) are more prominent than the plot in the minds of most reviewers.
Most reviewers agree that while the film is not necessarily high art, it is a good martial arts/horror/comedy film—they say that it is interesting and exciting enough to keep one watching until the end credits. The film's humour is often highly praised, lightening up what would otherwise be a superficial and generic action film. The film has received some criticism, largely that it is ludicrous and "stupid", or that its plot does not sustain its length. However, others argue that this is not only irrelevant—The film is intended to be ludicrous and stupid—it is actually one of the strengths of the film.