Certain films steer clear of a great many things that some would consider a part of the cinematic standard. Things like a coherent plot and some semblance of restraint on behalf of the director, the screenwriter and the actors are typically high on that list. But in its shunning of such principles, a film like 'Deadball' doesn't just become something that a person can easily turn their nose up at (though it is), it becomes a veritable masterpiece of deranged cinema.
Hailing from gonzo director Yudai Yamaguchi, 'Deadball' is a genre-melding effort that's both a follow-up to his gloriously unbalanced cult hit 'Battlefield Baseball' and another sometimes-terrifying glimpse into Yamaguchi's disturbingly creative mind.
The plot puts a psychotic twist on the usual, boy-vows-never-to-play-baseball-again-after-killing-his-father-with-a-fireball-pitch story by throwing said murderous ballplayer into a brutal juvenile reformatory that's run by Nazis. And then things get weird. After fireball-pitching Jubeh Yakyu (Tak Sakaguchi) kills his father in such gloriously over-the-top fashion, he heads down a path of crime (including dropping televisions on people!) and winds up in the hands of Ishihara (Miho Ninagawa), the sadistic headmistress of the Pterodactyl Juvenile Reformatory, who wants the baseball phenom to play on the reformatory's team in exchange for the life of his cellmate and several other innocent (relatively speaking, of course) inmates in Ishihara's charge.
Essentially, that's the gist of 'Deadball' – it is, after all, a sports film in the loosest sense of the word – but it's what transpires next that makes the film either endlessly watchable, or begging to be turned off, depending on how much you enjoy the kind of (ironically) juvenile antics that are on display for nearly 100 minutes. There're violently graphic cavity searches; a breakfast item that's literally been someone else's meal; and torrents upon torrents of blood – enough to make early-'80s Sam Raimi stand up and take notice, actually. But despite all of the bodily fluids (and attempts at humor surrounding them) there are also some pretty great gags that stand a good chance of making even the most stone-faced of viewers crack a smile.
Jubeh and his endless supply of off-screen cigarettes (which is probably the best gag in the movie), provide the vast majority of the laughs, especially early on when the juvenile offender uses the body of a small inmate known as Ratman to bat a maliciously thrown baseball back into the would-be assailant's face (permanently). Additionally, Yamaguchi pits his film's hero against a German-trained manservant whose sensitivity to MSG salt is on par with snails. Ultimately, the highlight of the pre-ballgame portion of the film involves some hand-to-hand combat between Jubeh and Headmistress Ishihara, in which Jubeh actually punches the Nazi through the receiver of a telephone.
In the end, though, that's the depth of the humor that 'Deadball' has in store for its audience. There're plenty of laughs to be had, but they're almost exclusively of an absurd or deliberately offensive nature, and the endless onslaught of dismemberments, bludgeonings, and exploding body parts (no matter how creatively they're handled on the film's shoestring budget) tend to become too routine and objectionable after a while. It's obvious that everything horrible that happens in the film is all in good fun (and don't get me wrong; it is good fun most of the time), but it would have been in Yamaguchi's best interest to balance the most objectionable stuff with something that held just a smidge more cleverness.
And aside from the low-budget goodness, cartoony violence and other pleasurable absurdities, 'Deadball' mostly suffers from the one thing that even does in films of the highest quality: a mismanagement of time and tempo. The front end of the film is so overloaded with establishing Jubeh's past, his current predicament and the build-up to the baseball game against the murderous St. Black Dahlia High School team that, by the time the game's actually underway, and the various characters are dropping faster than randy teenagers at Camp Crystal Lake, the movie feels like its been running for an eternity – yet the story's nowhere near finished.
Yes, this is a niche movie if there ever was one. It's not intended to appeal to the widest possible audience; it's meant to appeal to the specific tastes and proclivities of those familiar with either Yamaguchi's work, or the particular brand of film put out by Sushi Typhoon. But these particular details shouldn't preclude a movie from continually engaging its audience. It's one thing to be deliberately strange, and to have built an audience off that persistent need to exist outside the box. It's another thing altogether to make the audience want to join you there for longer than the duration of your story.
There are laughs abound in 'Deadball' and it should be praised for its manic desire to play out-of-bounds, but that level of intensity should also translate into a film that's appealing for more than it's weirdness. Everybody loved watching the kid on the playground eat worms, but nobody was asking him to hang out afterwards.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats'Deadball' comes from Well Go USA Entertainment as a single 25GB Blu-ray disc in the standard keepcase. Unlike other releases from Well Go, this disc does not come with a paper insert advertising other releases. There are a handful of previews included on the disc, but they can all be skipped to reach the top menu.
'Deadball' comes with a 1080p AVC-encoded transfer that produces a bright, nice-looking image that presents the best and (deliberately) worst the film has to offer, but does so without fully taking that pristine, high definition leap. That's not to say the image isn't good, because it is; there are just a few things missing from the final product that could have really paid off for the film's transfer.
In that regard, and as mentioned above, 'Deadball' has a surprisingly bright image that really mirrors the tone of the film – which, in turn, belies its somewhat dark and disturbing subject matter. Thankfully, since the movie is so off-the-wall crazy and blithely sardonic, it easily handles the dazzling, colorful excesses that are on display. This is also where the transfer really shines; colors are incredibly vivid – especially the copious amounts of fake and CGI blood that's sprayed around the set with reckless abandon. Characters' outfits – even the seductive black ensembles of the St. Black Dahlia High School team – seem to leap off the screen, and even when doused in the aforementioned blood, still retain their original vibrancy.
Additionally, contrast levels appear to be fairly high – though there are some instances where the white balance could have been adjusted a bit more, while the darker moments oftentimes leave the image looking a tad muddled in places. But all in all, that aspect of the image is fairly strong.
On the negative side, however, is the fine detail that has come to truly establish high definition. Like the contrast, there are moments where the transfer on 'Deadball' really comes through, showing fabric textures and facial detail very cleanly. More often than not, however, the really fine detail seems to have been washed out. It's never to the degree that the film feels compromised, or that the image was truly tarnished, but it does limit the level of detail and the heights to which this transfer could have climbed.
The Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is really the highlight of the film's high definition package. As one can likely surmise, 'Dead Ball' is not a quiet or contemplative little film; it is a loud, boisterous production that is literally screaming to be heard. That being said, the sound offers the listener a truly great and immersive experience that is chock-full of explosive, sometimes bizarre sound effects that utilize the full spectrum of a home theater.
First and foremost: dialogue is very crisp, clear and, most importantly, loud. Much of 'Deadball' requires a great deal of histrionic line reads and otherwise over-the-top deliveries, which, even if you're not fluent in Japanese still come through as hilarious through inflection alone. But added to that is the deep bass and ever-present surround effects that help to deliver a sound experience you can absorb yourself in.
LFE isn't as present as it would be in some truly high-octane action films, but it certainly gets the job done in 'Deadball.' Explosions, gunfire and punches all register with a rich, sonorous boom that never goes overboard, but certainly makes its presence known. Meanwhile, surround effects do a great job of putting the viewer in the midst of a deadly game of baseball, fistfight or shootout involving a Nazi-cyborg-death-machine. To that end, the balance on the audio is very close to being perfect, as the speakers track flying debris, characters and weapons of destruction with disturbing precision.
This mix presents a fantastic use of surround with the kind of clarity one expects from a high definition transfer.
There are films that inadvertently wind up being offensive, and then there are films like 'Deadball,' that go to such great lengths to include as much offensive material as possible that they become nearly innocuous in the process. Yamaguchi is so clearly attempting to press as many buttons as he can that the film is both utterly ridiculous and hilarious at the same time. It certainly won't be for everyone (actually, its audience will probably be pretty small), but for those just looking to experience something truly bizarre, chances are this film will have what you're looking for. With decent picture and great sound, 'Deadball' is one that's worth checking out, if you dare.