The Seido High School Principal is worried about the all important baseball championships that are about to be held, and whether his team will hold their own against the might of say, the Gedo team which is made up of aggressive zombies. While the Principal has nightmares about possible carnage that might erupt once his team step up to bat, the school is buzzing with rumours about the latest pupil to arrive: Jubeh (Tak Sakaguchi). He is supposed to have been expelled from his last school for murdering a teacher, or was it for murdering his parents? Whatever the reason, he is a terrific baseball pitcher, so can he be persuaded to join the team? When the Principal witnesses a baseball themed fight between Jubeh and a local bully, he sees his prowess, but Jubeh has made a vow: no more baseball. Ever. Can he overcome the tragedy that led him to this state and lead his fellows to victory?
If all you know about Japanese baseball is what you caught in a television showing of The Bad News Bears Go To Japan you were half watching while waiting for something better to come on, then I'd like to say that Battlefield Baseball will be welcomed as an enlightening experience. I'd like to say that, but actually the film's grip on reality seems tenuous at best - you remember that bit in The Naked Gun with the ridiculous sports TV outtakes where a player is attacked by a tiger and another gets his head knocked off? Well imagine a ninety minute, Japanese version of that sequence, only with martial arts fights, improbable soul searching and a musical number added for good measure. Sensible this is not.
It's no surprise that Jigoku Kôshien or Battlefield Stadium, to give the film its original title, was based on a Manga, this one written by Gatarô Man and adapted for the screen by Isao Kiriyama and director Yudai Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi worked with Sakaguchi on Versus and Alive, both of which he co-wrote the script for, but this was his directorial debut, and as a comedy it does inspire some good laughs, but mostly it's just weird. Jubeh has given up baseball pitching because nobody could return them, such was his force at throwing. Through the medium of song we are told that Jubeh's father took pity on him and offered to play catcher, but after a super-speed ball went right through him, killing him outright, Jubeh was so distraught that this was the reason he will never play again.
Except he will, of course, and this pussyfooting around all the persuasion it takes to get Jubeh taking part can be tiresome as we know fine well that he will be pitching again. After he escapes from prison, that is. The games have little to do with baseball and more to do with gang fights as the rivals of Gedo are armed to the teeth and once the whistle blows to start the proceedings, the zombies (offscreen) chop the Seido team into little pieces. There's no shortage of incident, with Jubeh finding his long lost family after an energetic fight with his mother, and previously dead characters returning to life, in some cases as robots. Although noticeably underfunded, the sheer exuberance carries the action's high spirits through its multiple plot twists, ludicrous as they are, and the whole thing has the gall to end with an inspirational message about the friendships you find in baseball teams being the most important aspect of the game. It's amusing, but just as likely to leave you looking quizzical as it is to make you chuckle.