I had a bit of a dilemma with DEADBALL.. I love SUSHI TYPHOON, but I hate baseball... so should I watch it or not? Actually it was no dilemma at all - the fact that it stars the coolest human being on Planet Earth (Tak Sakaguchi) meant that it was a must-watch, but it take me longer to get around to it than a non-baseball film with those credentials would have lingered unwatched.
As a child, Jubei Yagyu shows great promise as a baseball pitcher, until one of his powerful pitches ends up killing his father and traumatising his younger brother Musashi. He vows never to throw a baseball again. Skip forward about a decade, and the 17 year old Jubei is sent to a maximum security prison after a crime spree that leaves 50 people dead. The prison's governer and the Nazi-loving prison warden both want to utilise Jubei's baseball skills to help them win the inter-prison baseball league... but all is not what it seems.
Yudai Yamaguchi's previous baseball film, Battlefield Baseball, managed to be kinda crap despite the presence of Tak Sakaguchi playing... a character named Jubei who has sworn off playing baseball because of an incident in his past. Hmmm. Whilst imaginative, it suffered primarily from a chronic lack of budget, but on his second run at the concept Yamaguchi managed to snag the supremely talanted Yoshihiro Nishimura for special effects - the true master of gore on a shoestring. I presume he managed to scrape together a little more cash for the project, too, as whilst it is still very much a budget indie film, it doesn't feel like it was made by a bunch of high school students one weekend.
So, DEADBALL might be considered a remake of BATTLEFIELD BASEBALL in many ways, but transplanted from a high school to a prison... though it seems like Yamaguchi forgets this at times, with the nazi prison warden being referred to as "Headmistress" and the opposing team (of extremely sexy, if rather slutty, babes) being referred to as the "Black Dahlia High School Team", despite being a gang of mass murderers and terrorists. I suppose they're supposed to be 'juvenile detention centres' or something (no serious attempt is made to make Tak look like the 17 year old he is supposed to be playing), so perhaps the school terminology is how it is in such places in Japan.
Like its predecessor, DEADBALL is very, very, very, very... VERY, VERY silly. The 'prison baseball' storyline is quite deliberately constructed purely from disjointed sports movie underdog cliches, along with curveball developments such as killer nazi robots and scenes of pure randomness. The aim was clearly to try to recreate the vibe of the off-the-wall mangas that Yamaguchi seems to be fond of, with bizarro characters and extreme cartoonish violence. With Nishimura on the payroll he actually has the resources to put some of those ideas into practise this time around, and DEADBALL features plenty of the kind of ridiculous mutilations and dismemberments that fans of The Machine Girl and its brethren have come to expect.
Despite having been Assistant Director on one of the greatest films of the Japanese splatter wave (that would be Versus), Yudai Yamaguchi's limitations as a director are still apparent though, evidently lacking the ability to make a coherent package on a limited budget that other directors such as Noboru Iguchi manage. He is clearly bursting full of ideas, but doesn't seem to know how to tie them together in a logical, satisfying way - or to pick which ones are important enough to invest a larger share of time and budget on. He also doesn't have a good handle on character development or pacing, so the film lurches about a bit too much, and although there are plenty of grin-inducing and head-spinning moments, they don't build into the kind of sublime, awesome stupidity that Robogeisha or MUTANT GIRLS SQUAD do. The ending is particularly poorly handled.
DEADBALL seems to have got more favourable reviews than Yudai Yamaguchi's other 2011 film with Tak, Yakuza Weapon, which surprises me - both have some of the same flaws, but overall I thought YW was a more satisfying package. Perhaps it's the baseball aspect of things - not that any real baseball gets played at any point in the film, to be honest, but the thought that it might was probably enough to bias me against the film a bit. Derek Elley remarks in his review in Film Business Asia that DEADBALL wins over YAKUZA WEAPON because it "doesn't just rely on gore-fountains and transgressive humour" - which seems to me to be exactly what DEADBALL does rely on. The gleeful nazis, the slutty pop-star murderers, the scenes of bodyshock horror and oceans of red ichor are very much the centrepiece of the film - certainly the underdog-prison-sports movie-missing-brother plot isn't supposed to be taken even remotely serious. I thought that YW had more clever moments amidst the nonsense and violence, anyway.
So, whilst I enjoyed DEADBALL more than I did BATTLEFIELD BASEBALL, it's still a lesser entry in the splatter wave. I wish people would get a move on and release more of Noboru Iguchi's recent films instead - I count 6 films since MUTANT GIRLS SQUAD that I haven't seen, and even that is still waiting for an official UK release! Chop chop!