Based on Taiyo Matsumoto's popular manga, first-time director Fumihiko Sori's weird, wonderful and thoroughly delightful ode to high-school ping-pong wizards filters adolescent angst through the prism of intensely competitive high-school table-tennis matches.
Outgoing junk-food-junkie Peco (Yosuke Kubozuka) and shy, peculiar Tsukimoto (Arata) are best friends, bound by the kind of childhood happenstance that throws utterly incompatible kids together for long enough that they develop shared history before they realize there's no particular reason for them to be friends. Peco lives for table tennis, particularly the thrill of seeing people's faces when he trounces players twice his age. He taught the game to Tsukimoto — nicknamed "Smile" because he doesn't — and they spent countless hours at Granny's (Mari Natsuki) ping-pong parlor. Now freshmen at Katase High, they're both on the school team; Peco, naturally, is the star, a born entertainer whose aggressive, powerhouse style makes mincemeat of lesser players. He's fatally overconfident, and his cockiness eventually precipitates a humiliating defeat by Dragon (Shido Nakamura), another childhood friend who now plays for a rival team so dedicated to ruthless intimidation that they shave their heads like thugs. Temperamentally incapable of dealing graciously or even constructively with defeat, Peco drops out of school and unwittingly clears the way for Smile to shine. No longer distracted by Peco's nonstop gonzo antics, coach "Butterfly" Joe (Naoto Takenaka) realizes Smile is a better player than he ever imagined, a natural who's been holding back because he takes no pleasure in beating players who care far more about the game than he does. Peco, meanwhile, wallows in scruffy despair until Granny talks some sense into him. After training intensively, Peco returns to school and to the team with his reflexes and limber wrists in top form, but his grueling comeback regimen has left him with a dodgy knee. All this happens shortly before the championship tournament where the old friends may wind up playing against each other.
The very idea of ping pong as an extreme sport sounds absurd to Americans who grew up playing an occasional lazy game in someone's basement room, but Sori shoots each match with such ferocious visual inventiveness — MATRIX-style slow-motion pans, dizzying overhead shots and dazzling ball's-eye POVs — that by the final face-off it's hard to think of it as anything else. At the same time, he gives his cast room to inhabit Matsumoto's quirky characters, which gives their discontents and victories a sneakily satisfying weight. In a film full of surprises, that may be the biggest surprise of all.
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- Released: 2002
- Rating: NR
- Review: Based on Taiyo Matsumoto's popular manga, first-time director Fumihiko Sori's weird, wonderful and thoroughly delightful ode to high-school ping-pong wizards filters adolescent angst through the prism of intensely competitive high-school table-tennis match… (more)