This movie is about hockey, not about baseball, but it does take place in Hokkaido, so maybe it's vaguely kind of sort of related to this blog?
Official Site - go-smilers.jp
Movie trailer on Youtube
It's Christmas. It's time for a feel-good story about Good winning another battle in the eternal struggle against Evil, with Love as the catalyst. Good has taken shape in the form of a rag-tag bunch of 12-year-olds in Hokkaido, a hockey team calling themselves the "Smilers". Evil is the "Thunderbirds", another schoolboy hockey team which dresses in black, moves like an army regiment, and is coached by an egomaniac.
Love... well, let's step back from this all for a minute.
Igaya Masaya is a professional hockey player who never smiles, for reasons we discover later on. It's Christmas 2007, and he comes back to visit the ice rink that he spent so much time at as a child. A few kids ask him for autographs, and then he sees a figure-skater on the ice. She's beautiful, graceful, and immediately reminds him of his first love, a figure-skater named Rena, who he met twenty years ago. He's transfixed by the skater on the ice, and gets lost in his thoughts.
Does that sound like a flashback to you? Sure does! We're whisked back to autumn 1987, where a 13-year-old Masaya is also watching a beautiful figure-skater on the ice at the same exact rink. She's beautiful, graceful, and he's completely struck dumb the way only a 13-year-old boy who has just completely fallen headfirst into a crush can be. The rest of his hockey team crashes into him and makes fun of him for staring at her like that, but she just smiles and skates off.
Meet the Smilers. They're just your average group of 12-year-old hockey players in the middle of nowhere in Hokkaido... kind of. We find out later that all of them have their own backstories and troubles; one of them has divorced parents, another has a sister stuck in a wheelchair, another has been endlessly bullied all through his life. Masaya's parents died in a fire when he was young. Undoubtedly their hardships is what brings them all closer together as a group.
Meet their coach. Shuhei (played by enigmatic screen and stage actor Mirai Moriyama) is an ex-tapdancer who moved up to Hokkaido to be with his girlfriend Shizuka (who, incidentally, is Rena's figure-skating coach). Shuhei wants to marry Shizuka (played by Italian-Japanese model/actress Rosa Katoh), but of course, there's a slight obstacle: Shizuka's stereotypically-strict father, who completely does not approve of a wacko like Shuhei. Shuhei says that he's come up to Hokkaido to be a teacher at a local elementary school, and Shizuka's father wants to know about his leadership skills -- and mentions that the ice hockey team's coach just quit, so Shuhei should take over. Shuhei replies, "Sure! Leave it to me, my hopefully-future-father-in-law!! I'll coach ice hockey!!" (Can he skate? No. Does he know anything about hockey? No. Has he ever coached a team? No. Does that matter? Apparently not.) Shizuka's father challenges Shuhei to have his team actually win a game and then maybe he'll allow the two of them to marry.
Naturally, Shuhei's lack of experience allows him to make "brilliant" decisions, putting the runt of the team in as the goalie, and coming up with offense plays based on tap-dancing rhythms. They win the game, and Shizuka's father says "I changed my mind. Win the CHAMPIONSHIP and I'll allow you to marry."
No problem, right? Well, as one of the kids points out, there is a very big problem: a hockey team called the Thunderbirds, who basically clean the floor with every team they face, every year. Their coach is a womanizing asshat named Tsurugi who is, of course, Shizuka's sempai from college and ex-boyfriend. He, of course, intends to get back together with Shizuka when his team defeats the Smilers and Shuhei is out of the picture. Meet love triangle Number 1.
Love triangle Number 2 sort of falls flat on its face early on in the plot, fortunately. See, there's a figure skater named Chinatsu who has a huge crush on Masaya, and she's really jealous of Rena. One day Chinatsu asks out Masaya, and he turns her down. As we find out, Chinatsu's ice skating talent is only matched by her ability to beat the living crap out of random guys who piss her off. So she punches Masaya's lights out, and he winds up in the hospital, and Shuhei invites Chinatsu to take Masaya's place on the team, where she can (and does) go beat up on opponents instead. Chinatsu is subsequently joined on the team by Shevchenko, a blonde-haired Russian exchange student who Shuhei recruits when he sees him Cossack-dancing in the hallway, and by Ichiryouta, a misfit from the sumo club whose size and skills work well for him on the ice. Yes, it's quite an assortment of characters.
While injured, Masaya runs into Rena at the hospital, which if you've watched enough Japanese doramas and movies, signifies that Rena has been diagnosed with Something Fatal and is Destined to Die by the end of the movie. However, Masaya doesn't know that, and so he finally gets up the guts to go out on a date with her. They date for a while. She becomes sicker and faints and has to go into the hospital, naturally right before the Big Hockey Tournament starts.
The team -- even Chinatsu -- comes to support Rena in the hospital every day, first by visiting and later by banging their hockey sticks on the ground at night and shouting her name. (At first this evokes the ire of a security guard who chases them off, but when he finds out what's going on, he even helps them find her when she's transferred to intensive care for chemotherapy.) Rena's bedside table has exactly two items on it: the music box Masaya gives her, and the tournament bracket with the Smilers' progression marked with it. By day, the team is working together, training together, winning together. Shuhei still never actually learns to skate, resulting in hilarious scenes every time he tries to run out on the ice to high-five his team.
You can pretty much guess the ending -- heck, if you saw the previews at all you should know what's going to happen before you even sit down in your seat at the theater. However, this movie is so funny and lively and wonderful and poignant all at once that it really doesn't make a difference. I laughed, I cried. I enjoyed every minute of it and encourage you to go see it too, if you are in Japan.