As high-profile Hollywood releases go, probably the most earthshaking thing about MR. BASEBALL is that there's nothing much earthshaking about it. Well suited to star Tom Selleck, it is laid-back, amiable and unpretentious while touching on serious themes lightly but intelligently.
Jack Elliot (Selleck) is a power hitter on the wane whose team trades him to a fate worse than Cleveland, a Japanese team that expects him to power them to a pennant. He's immediately taken in hand by his new team's no-nonsense coach, Uchiyama (Ken Takakura). He's also taken in hand by the more
attractive but equally no-nonsense team promotions manager, Hiroko (Aya Takanashi), with whom Elliot becomes romantically involved before discovering that she's Uchiyama's daughter. No love is lost between Elliot and Uchiyama, the quintessential Japanese organization man who puts up with Elliot's
initial prima-donna boorishness for the sake of a pennant, despite what he perceives to be the "hole" in Elliot's swing. Though Elliot is hot for awhile--the title comes from the nickname he is given by the initially adoring Japanese sports press-- opposing pitchers eventually find his "hole," and
Elliot slips into a slump.
The team's backers use Elliot's slump as an excuse to put him on indefinite suspension and inform Uchiyama that he shouldn't expect his own contract to be renewed unless he wins the pennant. Putting aside their running clubhouse skirmishes, Uchiyama and Elliot team up to put the slugger back into
shape and earn him a second chance. Elliot's redemption is a mixed blessing for Hiroko, who fears that he'll eventually win his way back to an American team and leave her behind. All is resolved happily, however. Elliot and Uchiyama win the pennant, but it is Hammer, Elliot's fellow American on
the team (Dennis Haysbert), who gets called back to America. When Elliot himself is called back later, in the film's epilogue, Hiroko is seen joining the other players' wives in the bleachers during practice with her cellular phone and portable fax working overtime.
There can be no argument that the plot of MR. BASEBALL is predictable to a fault. But it's anything but a lazy film. The game scenes in particular have a genuine excitement and realism usually lacking in sports movies. But the attention to detail in the big scenes filters down to the smaller
scenes as well. The Japanese way of baseball is examined humorously but without caricature as an illustration of the Japanese cultural mania for perfection mixed with an openness to outside cultures or, as Hiroko tries to explain to Elliot, Japan's taking the best the world has to offer--and
making it better. Though Elliot discovers one result is the best-tasting steak he's ever eaten, he is less comfortable with the pursuit of perfection when it's applied to his own physique. Though Elliot helps his team loosen up and enjoy the game more for its own sake, director Fred Schepisi,
using a screenplay that itself could be a tribute to Japanese teamwork for the battalion of credited writers, makes it clear that it is Elliot, and presumably America itself, who has more to learn from Japan than vice versa.
Along with his taste for exercise, Elliot has also lost his taste for egalitarianism. Inherent in the Japanese approach to baseball is the idea that anyone who works hard and pitches in for the common goal can succeed. As the pampered superstar, Elliot seems more imperialistic than anyone he meets
in Japan--a country supposedly steeped in imperialist culture. Tuning in to the Japanese way of doing things, more than a little ironically, puts Elliot back in touch with core American ideals of teamwork and equality. That is why the ending, Elliot's return to America, is oddly satisfying. On one
level, Schepisi has too much respect for both cultures to opt for the more standard resolution of having Elliot be fully accepted by, or fully accepting, Japanese culture. But we're also left with the sense that Elliot will return a better American. (Adult situations, profanity.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: As high-profile Hollywood releases go, probably the most earthshaking thing about MR. BASEBALL is that there's nothing much earthshaking about it. Well suited to star Tom Selleck, it is laid-back, amiable and unpretentious while touching on serious themes… (more)