Genre: Comedy Sports Drama (Japan)
Starring: Yôsuke Kubozuka (Tomie: Replay • "GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka"), Arata (20th Centure Boys • Zatoichi: The Last)
Directed By: Fumihiko Sori (Vexille • Ichi)
Overview: This is the story of two friends, their competition, and their Ping Pong.
When friends discuss films with the added praise of 'it's probably my favourite film of all time', it's a recommendation that's hard to ignore. When they follow up by putting the DVD in your hand, well you need a pretty good excuse to turn it away... well, at least when those titles aren't Backdraft or The Day After Tomorrow. Ping Pong is one such film that was thrust into my palm with the warning that it may not be as bleak as I'm accustomed to. Well, to all my readers out there, I can safely say that of all table tennis films I've seen, this is the best. Furthermore, this film is so worthy that I've allowed it to drive a wedge in my 1001 films study to tell you all about it.
Put simply, Ping Pong is a Japanese Comedy Drama about table tennis teams competing to win the annual high school tournament. The story revolves around our two characters, "Peco" Hoshino, an extremely proud and cocky table tennis player who spends his days at the dojo playing to make a career out of it. His best friend "Smile" Tsukimoto, so named because he never does, is a brooding sort who has always played ping pong for the fun of it and nothing more - so much so that he often lets others win to spare their feelings. This year's tournament will have stiff competition from the usual uber-devoted team in black lead by Dragon, but there's also a new player emigrated from China who may make things difficult for our heroes' school.
Ping Pong has so much going for it, that it's hard to chose where to begin. Fumihiko Sori's first feature film is without a doubt exciting to watch. It was obvious from the start that Ping Pong had its roots in either comics or videogames, and lo and behold, Ping Pong comes from the manga written by Taiyō Matsumoto, author of Blue Spring and Tekkonkinkreet. The film opens up with introductions so dramatic that they could compete with the introductory flair of Jesus of The Big Lebowski. Stunning cinematography during tournaments include over-the-top close-up shots of ping pong balls crushing into paddles in slo-motion as they fly back across the table to whiz past incredulous players. Shots during practice montages include rooms of students practicing ping pong katas in unison and paddles red with the blood of devotion. Those more into the art-house will be pleased at frequent symbolic visualization effects that enhance our characters' development, which is where our movie shines. The magic of this film is in the characters and not their sport. Although there's much time spent at tournaments, the character development arcs are based on far more than victories and losses at that 9' by 5' masonite table. Yes, they include those of Peco and Smile, but we also follow their coaches as well as the lives of Demon, China and Dragon. And best of all, though the scenes play out logically, they don't do so predictably, which is what makes Ping Pong a surprising fun film, and, for me at least, a major sleeper hit.
Oh, and when the Japanese make fun of China, their race humour is gold!
That's what I'm talkin' about!
Performance: 9 Cinematography: 9 Script: 8 Plot: 9 Mood: 10
Overall Rating: 90% (Ping All Your Friends For This One)
When I finished this film, I mourned how many gems like these have passed by me unknown and unseen. Ping Pong is obscure enough being a Japanese movie made for the Japanese. Granted, having a website has allowed me to get recommendations from readers as far as Australia, and I can count myself lucky frequently enough to make my site worth it. Being cinemaniacal makes for an endless search, and it's something that needs to be done in volume.
Time to stick another celluloid in my vein... I know it's bad for me, but when movies like Ping Pong spring out of of left field like this, it makes it all worth the slag-sifting.