The Battery (Yôjirô Takita, 2007)
Japanese Title: Batterî
The meaning of life, as it turns out and according to the logic of Yôjirô Takita's unapologetically sentimental The Battery, can be found in baseball. The film, which tells the story of Takumi Harada (Kento Hayashi), a talented young pitcher who relocates to a rural town for his sickly younger brother, is ostensibly directed towards the youth, with its treatment of persons of authority, from the bumbling parents to the inutile teachers, with manifest naiveté of the driving force of the youth. In that sense, Takita's function as director is nothing more than to provoke empowerment among the youth; that independent of limitations enforced by authoritarian entities yet guided by virtues exemplified in team sportsmanship, one can be triumphant in a chosen field.
That being said, The Battery is a frustratingly close-minded film, typical of the many youth-directed narratives whose singular goal is patronize the faults of the next generation in the guise of some life wisdom fetched from deep within the elusive pertinent virtues of baseball. With hardly any attempt at subtlety from Takita, the films bludgeons its audience to abide by its strange logic and morality, all for the sake of genre and market conventions. Thus, there's an abundance of emotionally manipulative techniques at use here --- from the frequent close-ups to the perpetually smiling mug of best friend Go (Kenta Yamada), who also functions as Takumi's catcher; the predictable musical orchestrations that swell at the most opportune moments in the film; the numerous sidekicks who provide diversion from the sugary best bud plot by being inanely humorous.
The Battery is middlebrow entertainment, at its most efficient, with its unwillingness to be waylaid by any form of ambiguity. Should one survive the arguably impolite and inarguably impractical sweetness that is being rammed down the throats of its audience, the film proves to be surprisingly profound in its observations about baseball. In fashioning Takumi and Go's friendship and sports partnership not unlike a domestic relationship, the film suggests a quasi-conjugal overview of the game where more than manly prowess and skills, the requisite for success is something less physical and more emotional, something more within the arena of conventionally conceived feminine traits. In a sport that is crazed with strength, muscles and steroids, the idea that the possible key to a perfect game is love and harmony is jolting. To see baseball matches where grunts and sweat are replaced with communicated smiles and sticky stares is some sort of unexpected undercurrent in a pastime that has been unduly for years, a test of manhood, at least for the cultures that regard the sport that highly.
At a purely moralistic analysis, The Battery purports to connect family, friendship and character with baseball. However and more than that, The Battery is further proof, along with the girl-y boy bands, the effeminate anime heroes, polka dot clothes, shirts a size or two smaller than normal worn by slender male bodies, and the exaggerated demand for everything bug-eyed, cute, and cuddly, that Japan has perfected the art of advertising androgyny.