If you think that cinematic table tennis is only good for a few laughs like in the recently released Balls Of Fury, than you need to see Ping Pong. And luckily for you, this wildly inventive Japanese film hit DVD this week.
Set in a world of highly competitive high school table tennis, the film focuses on a pair of friends- Peco and Smile. Both are talented players, but not playing up to their full potential. Peco hustles other table tennis players for cash at a rundown ping pong dojo while Smile – so nicknamed as he never cracks his sullen expression – plays on the local high school team. When they both get beaten at a local competition, they question whether they want to go on playing the game, but are encouraged by separate coaches to put their all into their game in preparation for the next tournament.
Adapted from the manga by Taiya Matsumoto, Ping Pong balances complex character relationships between Smile, Peco, their coaches and the three main competitors the pair face. Unlike most sports movies, there’s no clear villain. The three major competitors Peco and Smile play against are drawn sympathetically, which helps build the tension during their matches. There is also a strong theme of having a responsibility to use one’s talents to the fullest and I have to wonder of Matsumoto intended this to be allegorical to the Japanese cultural drive to succeed.
Nominated for eight Japanese Academy Awards, Ping Pong is one of those films that, once you see it, you want to round up a bunch of your friends and share it with them. Half the joy of the film is discovering the stunning and kinetic visual work of director Sori Fumihiko, and the other half is in watching others discovering it for themselves. Sori, who worked as an effects supervisor on James Cameron’s Titanic, manages to find new and visually interesting ways to shoot each successive match. Combine with J-pop soundtrack and you have a film that captures the energy of its characters’ teen years.
VIZ Pictures has put together a great 2-disc package for the film. The first disc sports a sharp transfer on par with the Japanese Region 3 release. But where this release surpasses the Japanese disc is with its special features, which are spread across a second disc. The highlight of the special features is the nearly hour-long “Making Of” featurette which contains interviews with director Sori and the principal members of the cast as well as lifts the curtain on how some of the film’s ping pong matches were shot. There’s also a 16 minute mildly amusing parody of the film called Ting Pong, as well as another short feature on ping pong basics. The special features disc is rounded out with a collection of Japanese theatrical trailers and television commercials.