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Ping Pong (JAPAN 2002)

Director : Fumihiko Sori
Cast : Yosuke Kubozuka, Arata, Sam Lee, Naoto Takenaka, Shido Nakamura, Koji Ogura

Two friends, Peco and Smile are the best two table-tennis players in their school. Peco is fullof teenage attitude and often misses practise but plays games for money, while Smile (so called because he always looks miserable) practices but only actually plays to kill time. The two friends enter a tournament and Peco loses miserably and takes it badly, while Smile is convinced by his coach Ota to start playing seriously. As they enter local tournaments the two friends and some of the players around them find that they are maturing in their outlook on the sport – and their lives.

by Martin Cleary

Based on a manga by Taiyo Matsumoto, Ping Pong takes what seems to be an unlikely sport (for the cinema) and turns it into a decent sports-comedy-drama. The two friends Peco and Smile (played by Yosuke Kubozuka and Arata) provide the central plot. This initially seems to be a strange friendship as Smile is a bit of a miserable sod while Peco is a loud show-off. We soon learn that the two became friends as children when Peco saved Smile from being beaten up. The differences in the friends personalities reflects in their approaches to their sport – Peco plays for fun but also to win, while Smile plays to kill time and will not try to win if it hurts his opponents feelings.

Also thrown into the mix are the Chinese player Kong who has come to Japan with an aim to play professionally (sadly he receives racial abuse from almost everyone he plays), Sakuma – nicknamed Demon – who has spent his life obsessively dedicated to the sport and practices constantly to be a better player even though he has no ‘natural ability’, and Kazuma – a determined and aggressive player who obsesses over every game and his selfish need to be the best. Like the best ‘sports movies’, this film isn’t really about its central sport at all, but it’s a character piece where table-tennis merely brings different aspects of their character to the surface. The films strength is in its set-up as each individual has someone who is almost their opposite – the way the characters interact with one another highlights different strengths and weaknesses of themselves and their opponents. The central figure of Peco provides a lot of the films laughs – he’s a colourful character when everyone else seems to be taking themselves seriously – and the film follows his maturity into a sportsman with some responsibility, both to himself and those around him. Each central character in the film is well defined enough – if not particularly complex – and they’re an enjoyable bunch to follow. Ping Pong is a likable film because it’s easy viewing and never gets bogged down with a heavy plot yet manages to juggle it’s gang of colourful characters pretty well.

All of the main group seem perfectly cast, as do the two teachers, Smiles coach Ota (played by Naoto Takenaka) and Peco’s mentor Granny from his local club. There’s some decent use of CG shots in the film. These are not overused in the games but sparingly – which is very effective – as well as to compliment a few of the films more slightly surreal moments (watch out for the films ‘butterfly’ imagery). Sometimes you just want to watch a lighthearted film, and Ping Pong is ideal – although it’s not just fluff. It’s a good teen-flick that for some reason seems old-fashioned (in a good way) with its ‘teenagers growing up’ story.

Plot : 3/5
Acting : 3/5
Entertainment : 4/5
Overall : 3/5

Notable Scenes
- Peco’s childish reaction to losing
- Granny ‘flashes’ while training
- The tournament final

Buy this movie at YesAsia – Ping Pong

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