“Do you believe in Heroes?” This is the question at the core of Fumihiko Sori’s Sports/Comedy/Buddy Film. Which might seem strange for a movie about Ping Pong, but this lofty theme raises “Ping Pong” above its otherwise clichéd trappings.
It’s hard to put into words what made this viewing experience so delightful for me.
The basic plot of the film is the story of two boys growing up, focusing on the last two years of High School and the Ping Pong (Table Tennis) Championship Tournament held at the end of each year.
For the most part, the story is typical, they train together, they suffer a friendship threatening dispute, they reconcile, and they are eventually forced to face off at the Championship. They both have their hard nosed coaches, and a wacky supporting cast of allies and adversaries.
The two main characters Peco (Yosuke Kubozuka) and Smile (Arata) couldn’t be more different. Peco is hyper, arrogant and competitive, while Smile is quiet, melancholic, contemplative and polite to a fault (a trait that hinders his tennis abilities). All of the kids in the film are referred to by descriptive nicknames, and Smile gets his because he never does. Peco starts out more than a little grating, but his character really grows and develops through the course of the film.
Even though the characterizations tend to be broad, the cast, particularly the two leads, play their roles with conviction. And even though we never see any of the kids in a home-setting, there are moments of genuine tenderness and love that are communicated, and they resonate later in the film adding emotional weight, and elevating moments that might otherwise have felt cliché.
The actual Tournaments are shot as if they were martial arts competitions, with dynamic camera angles, and exaggerated action. Director Fumihiko comes from a CGI-Animation background and his use of CGI in the film is understated and effective. The final Competition is just as gripping as any Boxing or Football event (real or fictional).
The soundtrack is poppy and fun as well.
My only real complaints are that the film runs a little long, and some of the climactic moments at the end are telegraphed a little too obviously.
But ultimately, the film and the characters won me over, and again considering that it’s a film about Ping Pong, that in and of itself is a major feat. And even though you see them coming a early on, the moment when the characters realize that their “Friends” and their “Heroes” are one and the same, is cathartic and heartwarming.
I would recommend this film to anyone who believes in heroes. In fact: watch it with one of yours.