One thing that most human societies share is spectacular public rituals that are intrinsic to local identity but are unknown to the rest of the world: county fairs, sports competitions, pageants, races, concerts and so many other similar events. These are sites for community building, coming-of-age trials and the forging of social bonds. They often ensure that core values are passed on to subsequent generations. Here in Ireland, there are the all-county hurling and football matches, for instance. Koshien: Japan’s Field of Dreams examines one of these key public rituals in Japan: Koshien, the national high school baseball championship.

The film follows two different high school teams in their quest for sporting glory at the 100th Koshien in Japanese history. In so doing, it plunges the viewer into the rigorous world of Japanese high school baseball, where each school has a club with more than 120 players competing for one of the 20 spots on the coveted “A Team” that will represent their school at the tournament. The players train year-round and their coaches have extremely exacting standards. Obsessive dedication, intense focus and personal discipline are the minimum demanded by the teams.

The two teams featured are coached by two friends: the older Tetsuya Mizutani and his protégé Hiroshi Sasaki. Mizutani is the classic traditional, set-in-his-ways baseball hard-ass who sees the sport in a specific way and views his role as not just trying to win the Koshien tournament but also to forge his players into men who will have success in Japanese society. His younger—and more successful—friend and former mentee, Sasaki, is also quite the disciplinarian, but he seems more open to new approaches to the game and to preparing for it. One key theme of Koshien is contrasting these two coaches. Where this really manifests regards how both coaches prepare their players for the pressure of the tournament, which is single-elimination and on national television. Mizutani is hard on his players, chastising them in front of their teammates for mistakes, to toughen them up so they can ignore the pressure. Sasaki, on the other hand, has his team run practice drills as simulations of high pressure moments, so that they can become accustomed to completing routine baseball plays even in crucial situations. The film returns to this drill later, once it is enacted in real life, so that viewers can witness whether it succeeded or not.

Another major theme is to show that high school baseball culture is a major contributor to Japan’s general work culture, which demands overworking and slavish devotion. High school players are shown in the film pitching several hundred pitches over consecutive days, playing with broken bones and being so dedicated to perfecting their baseball skills that they are forced to skip other youthful rites of passage, like goofing around with friends at the beach. Coach Mizutani, too, has given his life over to high school baseball, as his wife frankly says in an interview that she raised their three children on her own and that Mizutani has never seen his teenaged son play a game of baseball even though the boy plays constantly. His mother and sister also comment on his single-minded pursuit of baseball success.

As a portrait of Japanese society, Koshien takes viewers into the seemingly crazy local customs of high school baseball in the country, offering a limited but illuminating glimpse into how boys are expected to become men. The film is less overtly critical than similar attempts in other places, such as Friday Night Lights and is instead content to the let the viewer reach her own conclusions.

Summary
As a portrait of Japanese society, the film takes viewers into the seemingly crazy local customs of high school baseball in the country, offering a limited but illuminating glimpse into how boys are expected to become men.
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Japan’s National Pastime
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