Major League Baseball is officially returning later this month (I am personally counting the days) so I thought this would be the perfect time to review Deadball, perhaps the finest Japanese baseball-horror film ever made. Released in 2011, Deadball is as much a comedy as a horror film. The “story” centres on Jubeh (Tak Sakaguchi), a young man with a supernaturally strong arm who inadvertently killed his father with a fastball while playing catch as a young boy.
This tragic event turns Jubeh into a badass, living a life of crime that eventually lands him in a reformatory for juvenile delinquents run by Ishihara (Miho Ninagawa), a cruel, Nazi-sympathizing headmistress. Apparently the Axis Powers are still alive and well in the Japanese penal system. Jubeh’s supernatural strength becomes apparent when he arrives at the prison and uses a fellow prisoner as a makeshift bat to hit a baseball thrown at him by the prison’s baseball team. In one of many over the top scenes of violence depicted in the film, the baseball becomes embedded in a player’s skull where it remains for the rest of the movie.
Jubeh’s supernaturally powerful pitching arm makes him a top draft pick for the prison’s baseball team and he is strongly encouraged to join by the headmistress but he refuses to play the sport that caused him to off his father as a child. Jubeh and Mistress Ishihara end up in a battle for the ages in her attempt to encourage him to play on the team, with ridiculous sequences that include a cartoonish fist punching through a phone and the headmistress’ face ending up a as a pincushion for some particularly sharp pens.
Jubeh finally relents and joins the team, known as “The Gauntlets”, on the condition that the prisoners get one decent meal for a change (who knew it would take so little?). His teammates include the guy with the baseball embedded in his skull and his meek cellmate, Four Eyes (Mari Hoshino), who looks like a Japanese Harry Potter. Jubeh and Four Eyes form an unlikely bond in the closest thing to character development in the film. We learn a little about the background of each player and what brought them to the prison. The film spends little time explaining the motivation of its characters and more on over the top dialogue and action sequences. There is also a number of ridiculous, out of place musical scenes including a quasi dance number with players jumping awkwardly around during practice.
Eventually, the team is asked to play a game against a team from the St. Black Dahlia High School, basically a reform school for scantily clad female delinquents even more ruthless than the guys’ team. The Gauntlets soon find out that this will be no ordinary game as the Black Dahlias begin murdering them one by one as they come up to bat with gory devices such as a ball that turns into a razor wire. It turns out the game was designed to be nothing more than amusement for the evil headmistress and her Nazi friends who watch the game from their private box. During the game, each team member of the Black Dahlias are scored on how creatively they kill each opponent in increasingly graphic ways accentuated with cheesy computer generated splatter effects.
Jubeh and his remaining team members soon begin to realize what’s going on and must quickly hatch a plan to turn the tables on their vicious femme fatale opponents using Jubeh’s powerful arm. While they manage to give the ladies a taste of their own medicine for a while, Jubeh soon succumbs to the Black Dahlias’ cruelty and is carried lifelessly off the field and put with the rest of the “retired” batters while Four Eyes is left to battle the team himself. But all is not lost as Jubeh awakens from his faked death to take on the evil warden and her band of Nazis in a series of cartoonish fight scenes.
Just when you think things can’t get more absurd, a giant cyborg descends from the sky and takes the Black Dahlias out one by one with some killer baseball skills, taking out Four Eyes as well. It turns out the cyborg is Jubeh’s little brother who witnessed him kill their father years ago. It’s not entirely clear why he chose this time and place to show up but it sets up an epic final boss scene of man versus machine that Jubeh wins with one of his famous fastballs. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what transpired after that, there’s an additional plot twist thrown in where the Nazis frame Jubeh to make it look like he’s responsible for all the deaths of the prisoners, Four Eyes returns to life, and the headmistress is finished off with yet another one of Jubeh’s famous fastballs. You’re right to think this all sounds too nonsensical to comprehend but Deadball is more about crazy characters, cheesy CGI and over the top action sequences than it is about telling a coherent story.
I decided to review Deadball as I am a fan of both horror and baseball and was interested in seeing how well the two mixed. As it turns out, they don’t mix all that well but the film did provide one of those experiences where you marvel at the sheer ridiculousness of everything that’s transpiring allowing you to separate yourself from the seriousness of the world around you for awhile. Deadball turned out to be more comedy than horror and while I can’t exactly recommend it as either a horror or baseball or comedy film, if you are looking for a little escapism from reality right now (and who isn’t) it might be worth a watch.
Deadball was directed by Yudai Yamaguchi who made another genre bending film called Battlefield Baseball that sounds similarly ridiculous. Unfortunately I couldn’t find it on any streaming services so I’m not able to confirm. Hopefully it will be available by the time the next pandemic hits and we need another escape from reality. In the meantime, Deadball is currently available to stream for free on PopcornFlix.