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Play Ball: Asian Baseball Dramas, Movies & Anime
We've built a varied roster of 20 Asian baseball series and films below, including coming-of-age stories revolving around high school baseball, inspirational accounts of historical baseball moments, and anime that'll remind you of Ohtani Shohei!
1. Ace of Diamond
The most well-known Japanese baseball anime of recent years, Ace of Diamond is based on the shonen sports manga by Terajima Yuji. The series follows ace pitcher Sawamura Eijun who has a unique pitching style that creates unpredictable movement at the plate. Joining an elite high school team, he strives to improve ball control and help his team reach the national tournament, while making friends and rivals along the way. Besides the Ace of Diamond and Ace of Diamond Act II anime series, the youthful sports story has also gotten the Prince of Tennis Musical treatment as live stage shows and musicals.
The biggest baseball event in Japan every year isn't the Nippon league's Japan Series, but rather the National High School Baseball Championship, commonly referred to as Koshien after the stadium in which the finals are held. As the goal of every high school team, Koshien is where heroes rise, tears fall and Japanese baseball legends are made. Directed by Sumio Omori, Again stars Nakai Kiichi as a divorced middle-aged man going through midlife crisis. When the daughter of a late high school teammate reaches out to him, he decides to gather the old team and revive their dreams in the Masters Koshien for alumni teams.
3. The All-Out Nine: Field of Nightmares
Never mind the Field of Dreams – welcome to the Field of Nightmares in this ridiculous yet wholesome baseball comedy based on Shimamoto Kazuhiko's manga Gyakko Nine! Directed by Hasumi Eiichiro, the film stars Tamayama Tetsuji as the captain of a misfit high school baseball team with an embarrassing losing record. When the school threatens to hand their field over to the soccer team, these underdogs must go all out to aim for the nationals. Laced with special effects, juvenile humor, wacky posturing and literally blazing balls, this Japanese sports comedy is hilariously over the top while embracing the tenacious spirit of youth baseball.
4. Baseball Girl
Baseball may be a male-dominated sport, but there are still female players fighting their own way into the professional league. In Korean writer-director Choi Yun Tae's debut feature Baseball Girl, Lee Joo Young plays a genius high school baseball athlete struggling to enter a professional team before graduation. Figuring out her own physical limits and weaknesses, she gives her all to train and excel with help from her coach (Lee Joon Hyuk), but her family and other players still find a way to bring her down just because she's female. Lee Joo Young's character delicately shows girl power with her inspiring persistence despite pressure and detracting forces in this female-centric film about a male-dominated sport.
Departures director Takita Yojiro directs the 2007 youth baseball film Battery based on the best-selling novel series by Asano Atsuko. A young Hayashi Kento plays a junior high pitching prodigy who has moved to a rural area. Though his athletic talents are a cut above the rest, his glum, stand-offish personality alienates him from teammates and his own family. Anchored in a simpler time, place and sentiments, the Japanese coming-of-age sports drama quietly depicts the ups and downs in the boy's relationships with his sick younger brother and a classmate who becomes his catcher. Battery was also adapted into an anime series in 2016.
6. City Without Baseball
Perhaps the most surprising baseball film on this list is the 2008 directorial debut of Hong Kong queer film auteur Scud. The film is nominally about the players of the Hong Kong Baseball Team and their struggles on and off the field in the baseball wasteland of Hong Kong. However, Scud throws a curveball with an indie film full of naked men, homoerotic subtext, and relationship and orientation angst, all of which would later become the director's artistic signature. A big part of the surprise is that actual members of the Hong Kong Baseball Team appeared in this film, going full monty for locker room and shower scenes while playing characters with their real names. Alas, despite starring actual baseball players and interspersing real game footage, the film doesn't actually have that many baseball scenes. To be fair, the title does say City Without Baseball.
Taiwan director Lin Li Shu captures the real-life miracle of a group of misfits rising as the dark horse among high school baseball teams in the 2013 sports comedy Faithball. Blended with elements of Taiwanese folk beliefs about the Goddess Mazu, the film casts Anthony Neely as an incompetent coach leading STORM, a team that suffers failure after failure on the field. Due to insufficient funds, the players take side jobs, such as dragon boat racing, in order to support the team's operation. They may not have adequate strategy, skills or money, but their faith never dies – and that is how they find themselves going head-to-head against the strongest contenders in the quarterfinal.
Director Kang Woo Suk delivers a heartwarming story about a hearing-impaired high school baseball team in GLove. Based on real life, the 2011 Korean baseball film stars Jung Jae Young as top pitcher Kim Sang Nam, the MVP for three consecutive years, whose career goes downhill after a drunk assault scandal. To improve his public image, he volunteers to temporarily coach a team of countryside school students who are unable to hear and hesitant to shout. Faced with physical and psychological barriers, the team inevitably struggles to win against opponents, but the perseverance and high spirits of the strong-hearted squad can never be defeated. Coaching this special team also rekindles Kim's passion and love for baseball.
9. Hot Stove League
Want to see the nitty-gritty of how a low-ranking Korean professional baseball team is run? Winning Best Drama at the 56th Baeksang Arts Awards, Hot Stove League stars Namkoong Min as the new manager of the struggling team Dreams. Along with long-time manager Park Eun Bin, they strive to rebuild the dream team again during off-season with different approaches – acquiring promising young players, rediscovering wasted talents, disclosing corrupt practices within the team, adjusting player salaries due to budget cuts… Rather than purely a sports drama, Hot Stove League is more like a workplace drama where we witness the growth and operations of a team behind the scenes from different angles.
Baseball films don't get much more epic than this. Directed by Umin Boya, Kano is based on the true story of the underdog team from rural Taiwan that made history at Japan's 1931 high school baseball championship. The final film of producer Wei Te Sheng's colonial trilogy about Taiwan life during the Japanese occupation, this hot-blooded historical sports film chronicles how boys of Han Chinese, Japanese and Taiwanese indigenous ethnicities overcome their differences and circumstances to achieve teamwork and victory. Tsao Yu Ning, a college baseball athlete at the time, made his acting debut as the ace pitcher of the Kano team. Defying expectations, the team goes from a backwaters corner of Taiwan all the way to the hallowed soil of Koshien Stadium. Running at three hours, this Taiwanese sports film is filled with baseball training and game scenes, including an extended third act at Koshien that captures the passion and perseverance of high school baseball.
11. Kisarazu Cat's Eye
If the Kisarazu Cat's Eye series was a position player, it would be firmly in left field thanks to the writing of Kudo Kankuro. Starting out as a Japanese TV series in 2002, the quirky comedy-drama follows the adventures of a baseball-loving squad formed by Sakurai Sho, Okada Yoshinori, Sato Ryuta, Tsukamoto Takashi and Okada Junichi as terminally ill protagonist Bussan. To make the best of Bussan's final days, the friends form a cat burglar ring to play Robin Hood by night. By day, they play ball in their quiet hometown. The TBS drama was followed by the films Kisarazu Cat's Eye Nihon Series and World Series, which went full-on Field of Dreams with a Kudo Kankuro-style twist.
Mitsuda Takuya's classic sports manga Major was serialized from 1994 to 2010, and its equally famous anime adaptation ran for over 150 episodes from 2004 to 2010. Major follows the baseball life of Shigeno Goro, tracing the athlete's journey from Little League to high school baseball to professional baseball in the U.S. and Japan. The protagonist is a left-handed pitcher who can also hit home runs and run the bases, and he plays on an Anaheim-based team early in his career. Sound familiar? If you've heard Shigeno Goro mentioned in recent years, it's likely because of Ohtani Shohei, who has been likened to the comic book hero for his phenomenal two-way exploits in the MLB. The sequel Major 2nd about the son of Shigeno Goro has also been adapted into anime.
13. Mr. Go
Korean and Chinese media giants Showbox and Huayi Brothers came together to pull an Air Bud with Mr. Go. The 2013 sports comedy sends the eponymous gorilla to the plate to blast home runs for a professional Korean baseball team (because it's not against the rules!). Predictably, things go well until they go south in Dumbo fashion due to the greed of humans. As crazy as it may all sound in hindsight, this co-production, which arrived two years after Rise of the Planet of the Apes made CGI primates respectable, was fully shot in 3D and had a blockbuster commercial director in Kim Yong Hwa. Based on an 80s comic by manhwa legend Huh Young Man, the film stars young Chinese actress Xu Jiao as Mr. Go's orphan circus master, and Odagiri Joe appears as a Japanese team owner. Mr. Go isn't a realistic baseball film by any measure, but it's an amusing curiosity. If anything, know this: To make Mr. Go, Kim Yong Hwa founded the VFX house Dexter Studios which would later produce the special effects of the Along with the Gods series.
14. Perfect Game
Cho Seung Woo and Yang Dong Geun are rivals striving to claim the title of Korea's best pitcher in the 2011 sports film Perfect Game, which is based on true events from the 1980s. The two leads take the roles of real-life star pitchers Choi Dong Won from Lotte Giants and Sun Dong Ryul from Haitai Tigers, battling it out as their teams' representative aces. In order to prove himself as a top player, rising pitcher Sun must defeat veteran ace Choi. Meanwhile, Choi pushes himself to his limits despite injury. On top of that, their matchup plays into heated regional rivalry. The two legendary pitchers pull off a Perfect Game in their 15-inning showdown on May 16, 1987, one of the most famous games in the history of Korean professional baseball. Perfect Game captivates hearts with the hot-blooded baseball scenes and stirring backstories of the protagonists.
Prepare to cry some manly tears in the name of baseball for this hot-blooded Japanese sports drama based on Morita Masanori's manga. Sato Ryuta plays the inspirational high school teacher and coach who tries to set a baseball team of troubled high school delinquents and dropouts on the right path. A fiery team that includes Ichihara Hayato, Satoh Takeru, Shirota Yu, Nakao Akiyoshi and Kiritani Kenta – all sporting hairstyles that scream yanki – wholeheartedly aims for Koshien, while doing a lot of fighting, yelling and angsting. The hit 2008 TBS series was followed by a TV special and then a blockbuster movie that carried the Rookies team to the national high school baseball championship and graduation.
Serialized from 1981 to 1986, Adachi Mitsuru's Touch set in the world of Japanese high school baseball is one of the highest-selling manga series of all time, with over 100 million copies sold. Its 101-episode anime series is also among the biggest hits of the eighties. Tenderly mixing sports, shonen, romance and coming-of-age elements, the story revolves around twin brothers Tatsuya and Kazuya, and the girl they both like. Tatsuya is a slacker used to ceding the spotlight to his hardworking younger brother, who is the ace pitcher of the school team. However, a tragic accident drives Tatsuya to step up to fulfill his brother's baseball dreams. On top of various anime adaptations, there is a live-action Touch film. Adachi Mitsuru, who specializes in sports manga, also focuses on baseball in H2, Cross Game, Idol Ace and the still-running Mix. Of these, Cross Game and Mix got anime adaptations, while H2 has been adapted into both anime and a live-action series.
17. The Vancouver Asahi
Set in the 1930s, Vancouver Asahi is based on the true story of a Canadian amateur baseball team formed by second-generation Japanese immigrants. Director Ishii Yuya takes a straightforward and inspiring approach for the 2014 historical baseball film depicting the players' struggles with discrimination and livelihood, and their fighting spirit on the field. Besides leading actor Tsumabuki Satoshi who plays the team captain and shortstop, the other main actors, including Kamenashi Kazuya as the pitcher, Kamiji Yusuke as the catcher, Katsuji Ryo as the second baseman, and Ikematsu Sosuke as the third baseman, all have prior baseball experience, adding to the impact of the game scenes and the underdog story.
18. Viva Baseball
Producer Hsu Li Kong and director Yin Chi dig into illegal sports betting and rigged games in the 2012 Taiwan baseball film Viva Baseball inspired by true events. Eric Huang plays Umi, a former baseball star who has been expelled from the pro league due to a match-fixing scandal. He is given the opportunity to work as the coach of a high school baseball team in Taichung, which also comes as a chance for redemption. A school principal who only cares about the subsidies, a team manager (Tracy Chou) who wants to kick him out, and a gang boss colluding with school officials are just some of the traps and challenges awaiting Umi. He must guide his young players down the right path, even if it puts his life at risk.
19. Weeds on Fire
Named a Film of Merit at the 23rd Hong Kong Film Critics Society Award, Steve Chan's Weeds on Fire is inspired by the true story of Hong Kong's first grassroots youth baseball team. Set in 1982, the coming-of-age sports drama follows Liu Kai Chi as a headmaster who forms a baseball team with troublemaker students in order to reform and inspire them. Going through hellish training for a sport they don't even care about, the boys (including Sing Lam, Tony Wu and Kaki Sham) experience the bitter taste of countless setbacks on the baseball field before finding their way to victory. Weeds on Fire hypes up audiences with the spirit of sports while shedding light on social issues through the different backgrounds and development of the characters.
20. YMCA Baseball Team
Led by Song Kang Ho and Kim Hye Su, this 2002 comedy-drama depicts the formation of Korea's first baseball team in the early 20th century. Ho Chang (Song Kang Ho), a scholar who likes sports more than studying, encounters Jung Lim (Kim Hye Su) when she's playing baseball with missionaries at the YMCA. He swiftly becomes interested in the girl and the sport. They join forces to build the YMCA Baseball Team, which later soars to overwhelming victory in various matches. However, things don't go smoothly as the political environment of Korea changes under Japanese annexation. Director Kim Hyun Seok received Best New Director at the 39th Baeksang Arts Awards.
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Published October 28, 2022