Friday, July 14, 2006

Kokoyakyu / 高校野球

Okay, I caught the airing of Kokoyakyu ("High School Baseball") tonight. KCTS says it's airing again in Seattle on July 17th at 10pm as well, and that's probably the last one.

Good things: This isn't really like a "documentary" like you normally see on TV. There's no dumb English voiceovers, no kitchy announcers. It's just the players and coaches and oendan and managers and all, footage of games and practices and various interviews and such. All of it's subtitled in English, so it has more of a feel of watching a foreign film than anything.

Bad things: It doesn't actually cover the Koshien tournament. I'm not sure why I got the impression that it did.

What it actually does is follow the progression of two high schools through the preliminary games; Chiben Gakuen, a private high school in Wakayama which often goes to and/or wins Koshien, and Tennoji, a public high school in Osaka, which doesn't. It shows you what a typical day is like in the life of a baseball-playing student in high school -- between the commute to school, the time spent in classes, the 7-8 hours a day practicing after school, etc -- how they will put almost all of their time into becoming better baseball players. Regardless of which sort of school they attend, the team still puts in the same sort of effort.

In addition, there's a bit of focus on the entourage surrounding a high school baseball team -- the marching band, the female cheerleaders, and the oendan (the male cheerleaders). While the female cheerleaders are indistinguishable from ours, male cheerleading in Japan is pretty neat -- it's a group of guys who basically practice shouting and waving in unison. Mostly shouting. There's also the set of girls who are "managers" for the team -- keeping the equipment, bringing tea for the players during practice, doing other administrative work on the team, helping out at practices, etc.

What it doesn't show is the downside of some of these hard-working baseball teams. It doesn't show the guys pitching with bleeding hands, or puking in the field from overwork, or playing through injuries for fear they won't get on the team. It doesn't really show the hazing that underclassmen go through in being forced to carry all the equipment and "serve" their upperclassmen just with the hope of making it on the team. In other words, I think it's painted an accurate, but idealized picture of high school baseball in Japan.

Last year TBS Japan did a live-action adaptation of Adachi Mitsuru's H2~君といた日々, which was AWESOME. It's basically the story of a high school which goes from not even having an official baseball team when the two main male characters are freshmen, to winning the Koshien tournament as seniors. And honestly, you get the same perspective on how hard they all work, how seriously they take baseball, how important it is to them -- but in H2, since it's a series and requires a plot, they also have things like the star pitcher dating the manager girl, who the shortstop is also in love with, of course, not to mention that the star pitcher is also in love with the girlfriend of their rival high school's team captain, among other plot devices to make it more than just "a show about high school baseball". Yet, I loved that show, probably more than just about any Japanese TV show I've ever watched.

The thing is, I'm not sure whether I got any more or less out of Kokoyakyu than I did out of H2. The only real difference was, Kokoyakyu was only one hour as opposed to eleven episodes, and this one showed real footage from real games, and real high school teams and entourages and players, rather than actors in a TV show. I guess either way, they still had surprise endings!

I'd like to see an actual English-audience-accessible show that's about the actual Koshien tournament itself, though -- the history, the traditions, the past stars, the amazing achievements, and maybe even the scandals. Because I do think it's one of the neatest things about Japanese baseball, and part of the core of the whole "fighting spirit".

Anyway, if you haven't seen Kokoyakyu yet, and you're interested in seeing what high school players go through in Japan, I highly suggest checking it out. It should be airing again in Seattle on KCTS on Monday July 17, or in other cities you can check for local listings.

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