A film to root for

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by MEI LING CHEN

KANO is the story of a Taiwanese high school baseball team during the Japanese Occupation, which fought their way to play at the national Japanese baseball competition in Koshien. This team of underdogs won the hearts of the Japanese baseball fans in 1931. Based on a true story, Taiwanese director, Umin Boya, sets out to explore how Kano – the baseball team at Kagi Agriculture and Forestry Public School – was able to go from no wins to becoming a nationally celebrated team.

At the start of the film, the players had yet to win any games or score any points, but their exuberance and enthusiasm sparked something in former baseball Coach Kondo (Masatoshi Nagase) and he opted to train them. The film is rife with training and playing montages as we see the team work hard and gain confidence. Kondo never doubts that Kano can make it to the national championships at Koshien and ingrains that idea into the players’ heads.

One player in particular that the film focuses on is Akira Go (Tsao Yu-ning), a Taiwanese player and the star pitcher for the team. His humble background is the only one that we see of the teammates and his commitment to baseball only increases when he loses his girlfriend to a wealthier prospect. Class plays a role in KANO as we are often shown the team’s shabby equipment, the unkempt baseball field on which they practice and the single room in which the entire team sleeps. Kondo tries desperately to secure more funding for the team, before finally using his own money, unbeknownst to his wife.
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The film touts the fact that Kano is a multi-ethnic team made up of Japanese, Han Chinese and Aboriginal players but beyond saying so, these differences among the players are rarely depicted. When questioned about the makeup of the team, Coach Kondo often responds “What does race have to do with it?” The concept of ethnicity and race in 1930s Taiwan would have been a fascinating study, considering Japanese imperial rule and its attempts to assimilate Taiwanese people to Japanese culture. It is a shame that this was not explored more in the film since we are told the diversity on the team is an advantage but we are never really shown how. Perhaps it was Boya’s intent that we are unable to identify which player is of which ethnicity.

Race as a social construct has never been more evident when watching this film from a North American perspective, given that often East Asians are depicted as one race in this part of the world, but to the Japanese in the film the Han Chinese and Aborigines are seen as less than.

The film is approximately three hours long and certain unnecessary elements could have been dropped which would have resulted in a much tighter film. Boya is able to create the look and feel of the 1930s through the use of wardrobe, staging and even the subtle colouring of the scenes. The implications and fallout of colonial rule in Taiwan is never fully explored because for better or worse, KANO is still a baseball film. For those who enjoy baseball, KANO is a good three hours spent and the themes of any good sports movie: perseverance, sacrifice and hard work, are all there. That a group of young farmers from the colonies were able to beat some of Japan’s strongest contenders makes KANO a team and movie to root for.

 

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