Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Kano (2014) Centerpiece of the New York Asian Film Festival 2014

One of the multiple signed Kano posters given away before the North American Premiere screening at NYAFF
KANO is the story of the Kagi Agicultural and Forestry Public School's baseball team in Taiwan in the 1930’s. A racially mixed team they were brought together by their coach with the hope of getting to the finals in Japan. It’s a story that will warm the cockles of year heart and bring tears to your eyes.

Yes, this is over 3 hours. No, you won’t care. It moves like the wind and it sucks you up and drags you along with its wonderful collection of characters. These are guys with real world problems, and things don’t go their way all the time (one guy’s girl gets married to someone else in an arranged marriage) and things have an upside and down side. Still you root for these guys and their can do spirit.

Actually it’s the can do spirit that works best in the film. It’s the scrappiness in the story telling and the drive to tell this story that over comes the flaws in the script.

Let me talk about the script- in a word its messy.

The problem (and the joy) is that the film is telling an epic story (maybe too epic) and somehow despite the length things get left out or ramble all over the place. The film is told, nominally from the POV of a Japanese soldier in transit who wants to see the town where the team came from, Who he is isn’t clear until the second half when he appears as a player on one of the teams in the finals. Who he is and why he is there is one of the stranger turns in the film considering that it takes two thirds of the film to know who he is . I’m still not sure why he’s the audience surrogate since he can’t see most of the action. (For the record the director said he’s there to show how the team overcame prejudice and made a mark on people in Japan). The film also has an occasional problem bouncing through time and space to the point that unless you can read the Chinese or Japanese on the signs it’s not always clear where or when we are (I thought some of the big games in Taiwan were the finals in Japan), things blend together until we get a verbal clue as to where we are. (perhaps that will be better with better subtitles)

Yes, the film does use some clichés as a kind of short hand, but surprisingly there are a more times it doesn’t. Sure, we get the tough coach with a dark past looking for redemption, and a few other sports film clichés but most of the time the film nicely avoids them. As much as I want to fault the film for using them even fleetingly, the fact that they pick and choose when and where they do gives them a pass in my book since its clear the cliché is card is being used to aid in telling not as a crutch.

If this film gets a regular US release look for the film to get at least an nomination for musical score. Trust me on this this film wouldn’t work without it since the score by Naoki Sato is character unto itself and it manipulates emotions and fills in all the details the script left out. Its probably one of the greatest I’ve ever knowingly heard.(The best scores are the ones you never realize are there)

Ultimately though, despite the script the film somehow works and works on a level that shouldn’t be possible.

Seriously somehow the film is a masterpiece. It shouldn’t be but it is. An hour into the film I was coming back from the bathroom when I stopped one of the NYAFF guys and said is this getting a US release, they didn’t know. I said it should because I knew about 15 people I wanted to press into seeing it.

To be honest the best thing I can say is that this is moviemaking at its finest. Seriously this is possibly one of the greatest achievements in cinema for one single reason- Namely I can rip this film to pieces I can dress it down from top to bottom, telling you why the piece don’t work or are inferior, but when they are together the film sings and soars and makes you cry and feel great. It’s a film that is like the team it depicts just a bunch of guys, completely unremarkable who come together to make something wondrous.

KANO is wondrous and a must see (and see again and again)

One of the treasures of the year.

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