Jack Elliot (Tom Selleck): “Just let them have a little fun.”
Uchiyama (Ken Takakura): “Baseball is work. Not fun.”
Elliot: “Baseball is grown men getting paid to play a game. When you were a kid, I bet you didn’t pick up a bat and ball because you were dying to work. A player’s career is short enough. Let them enjoy it.”
I barely understand the rules of baseball and I’m hardly Tom Selleck’s greatest fan but Mr Baseball is a very satisfying sports-comedy, certainly superior to the likes of Necessary Roughness (1991) and Major League (1989, which also featured Mr Baseball‘s Dennis Haysbert). Tom Selleck’s Jack Elliot is entirely believable; a flawed-but-not-hateful human being. Ken Takakura’s manager Uchiyama Ken is stern and inflexible but not unfair. And Aya Takanashi’s Uchiyama Hiroko is a woman with her own desires that confuses her father.
The best part of the movie is that you can understand where both sides are coming from when any two of the three are arguing – even if one or both of them are wrong, it’s a reasonable kind of wrong. So often in these kinds of movies, the conflicts ring hollow because they’re blown way out of proportion or because one side is obviously in the wrong that you can’t even truly sympathize with them. The disagreements and emotions in this movie feel organic and authentic and that makes the resolutions that follow feel earned and reasonable. And that makes all the characters feel likable and as if they are someone you can root for.
The plot revolves around Tom Selleck’s arrogant star pitcher on-the-wane Jack Elliot, who’s unwillingly traded to the Nagoya Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball League.
Needless to say, culture clashes abound and Jack has more than a few lessons to learn about Japanese society and the virtues of being a team player.
And to be fair, the Japanese gain a few insights from Selleck regarding the value of individuality and having fun on the sandlot.
The standout role is that of Uchiyama – The Chief, played by the great Ken Takakura, whose stoic charisma and quiet humour made him such a presence for Western audiences in The Yakuza (1974) and Black Rain (1989). I do recommend this film. Here’s where you can watch it.
Japanese way, ‘Shut up and Take it’!
Hiroko Uchiyama (Aya Takanashi):
Jack’s way, ‘ME, ME, ME’! Sometimes acceptance and cooperation are strengths also.