A new documentary from filmmaker Ema Ryan Yamazaki gives a personal insight into Japan’s annual national baseball tournament, most commonly known simply by the name of the stadium in which the final rounds are played.
In “Koshien: Japan’s Field of Dreams,” Yamazaki offers a dramatic and intimate journey to the heart of the Japanese national character, following a team and their head coach into the 100th installment of the wildly popular championship.
Baseball is life for the die-hard competitors, whose alumni include baseballs stars Shohei Ohtani and former Yankee Hideki Matsui.
But for head coach Mizutani and his players, cleaning the grounds and greeting their guests are equally important as honing their baseball skills.
Mizutani’s whole life has been in preparation for the historic 100th Koshien. A stubborn but passionate man, his martial brand of baseball in Yokohama maintains all that is beautiful, if extreme, in the uniquely Japanese form of the sport — rigorous year-round training, shaved heads, and self-sacrifie. The players believe in his message that their primary goal is to grow as human beings, so cleaning the grounds and keeping impeccable manners are indispensible.
However, beyond the company line, Mizutani boils with desire to validate his career by reaching the sacred grounds of Koshien. Having always prioritized his work over family responsibilities, he has never seen his 15-year-old son, Kosho, play baseball. Rather than take him onto his own team, calling on his well-earned web of connections, he sends Kosho away to be raised by a disciple in the remote prefecture of Iwate.
However, the former student and now coach Sasaki has outgrown the ways of his mentor. After having raised Major Leaguers Ohtani and Yusei Kikuchi, he has a progressive vision that proposes a new direction for the sport. Sasaki takes inspiration from bonsai — although wires are needed to guide young branches, those wires must be taken off at the right time. So too does modern baseball require a delicate balance between enforcement and autonomy for players.
Across Japan, 4,000 schools begin knockout competition, with only one winner from each prefecture able to advance to Koshien. Will all of Mizutani’s good deeds add up to a miracle, or will he prove to be a relic of a bygone era? Can Sasaki, with Kosho in tow, challenge the system in a culture where the nail that sticks up is liable to be hammered down? In the crucible of the Japanese summer, the scoreboard will be their report card, and a referendum on their values.
“I often feel that Japan is only known for specific things internationally — sushi, anime, and salarymen, to name a few,” Yamazaki said. “I hope that this film provides a more complicated and human view of Japanese people and provides hints of understanding of why Japan is the way it is —where it has come from and where it might be headed.
About the Filmmaker
In 2017, Ema Ryan Yamazaki’s first feature documentary, “Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curious George’s Creators,” was released worldwide by The Orchard, after raising over $186,000 on Kickstarter. It premiered at the L.A. Film Festival, and won the Audience Award at the Nantucket Film Festival.
Additionally, Yamazaki has directed documentaries for Al Jazeera English and NHK. She was the co- producer and editor of the HBO documentary “Class Divide” (2016), directed by Marc Levin, which won the Grand Jury Prize at DOC NYC.
Raised in Osaka by a Japanese mother and British father, Yamazaki grew up navigating between Japanese and Western cultures. She studied filmmaking at NYU, and currently splits her base between New York and Tokyo.
“Koshien: Japan’s Field of Dreams” premieres Nov. 20 on several Virtual Cinema platforms. Info: https://www.firstrunfeatures.com/koshien.html