When a local high school baseball team from an island colonized by Japan was invited to “mother country” in 1931 to play in the annual Koshien ‘all-Japan’ tournament, the team from Taiwan Island reached the finals — and almost won. They came in second, but the story still resonates today in both Taiwan and Japan, and a new movie by first time helmer Umin Boya is set to light up the scoreboard.
When Taiwanese producer Wei Te-sheng, the director of ‘Cape No. 7’ and ‘Seediq Bale’, heard of a small high school baseball team that “almost” won the all-Japan Koshien summer tournament in Kobe in 1931, he just knew he had to make a movie about it. So he wrote a script, signed on as producer, asked Umin Boya to direct it, raised a pile of money, hired a cast of Taiwanese actors and extras, and the film is now set for release on February 27 in Taiwan and Japan.
The movie’s title is “Kano,” the nickname of the old Chiayi Agricultural and Forestry Vocational High School, which no longer exists. The nickname comes from the first two English letters of the
two Japanese words “Ka-gi No-rin,” with ‘Kagi’ being the Japanese word for Chiayi and ‘No-rin’ being the Japanese term for agriculture and forestry.
The Chiayi city government saw an opportunity in the Wei-produced movie, which is a cross between a baseball drama and a love story. Wei wrote a young woman character into the script, and she’ll be the love interest of one of the players. So with expectations high that the movie will attract tourists from across Taiwan and Japan in the future, the city government’s tourism department donated a nice chunk of change to help fund the movie and build a Hollywood-style location set that looked like a trip back to the 1930s.
Four Japanese actors were hired for the movie, and they all play pivotal roles in the movie. Among them is Masatoshi Nagase, 46, who back in 1989 starred in Jim Jarmusch’s cult movie “Mystery Train.” Director Umin Boya, an Aboriginal actor in his 30s who appeared as an actor in ‘Seediq Bale,’ directed the movie from a script co-written by Wei. The director, who played high school baseball himself as a teenager, told this reporter that he understands the emotions of ball players and is looking forward to the film’s release, not only in Taiwan, but in Japan and other countries in Asia.
Imperial Japan in the 1930s had overseas colonies in Taiwan, Korea and Manchuria, and teams from those regions were invited to Koshien tournament — which still is held every summer — if they made the grade. But only the Kano team from Taiwan was invited to the all-Japan championships, and not just once, according to Masato Fujishima, a Japanese reporter for the Asahi Shimbun in Tokyo, but five times. However, it was only the 1931 team that played their hearts out all the way to the Koshien finals.
According to Fujishima, the 1931 Kano team won the hearts of Japanese baseball fans, and even today, the story has not been forgotten among Japanese oldtimers. So a feature movie about the team, set in the 1930s and adding a love story to the drama of the final game in Kobe on a hot summer day, should go over well in Japan, too.
The movie tells the story of a high school baseball team comprised of three ethnic groups — Japanese, Han Chinese and native Aboriginal boys — and one tough Japanese coach, played by Nagase.
The “Chiayi Norin Gakko” team took a boat from Keelung to Japan in the summer of 1931 and turned a lot of heads in Kobe. The complete the movie in post-production, the movie magic of computer generated graphics plays a big role in creating crowd scenes, airplane and boat scenes that only took place in computer files but look real on screen.
By some kind of baseball miracle, the teenage boys from Taiwan surprised the experts in Imperial Japan and came in second. Their earlier run of good luck and the final game is now part of Taiwan
lore, but for most people it’s a long forgotten story. Wei and Umin Boya hope their movie will put a new spin on it. From the trailers out now on YouTube, it looks like they won the game.