Ping Pong


Ping Pong
Ping Pong

Year: 2002
Director: Fumihiko Masuri
Writer: Kankuro Kudo
Cast: Yosuke Kubozuka, Arata, Sam Lee Chan-Sam, Koji Okura, Shido Nakamura, Naota Takenaka, Mari Natsuki
The Skinny: Manga-based sports flick is a little disjointed, but the sure direction and quirky tone make this a winner. And when it’s ping pong time, the film really soars.

Peco (Yosuke Kubozuka) and Smile (Arata) are two life-long friends who belong to their high-school ping pong team. Peco is the over-confident, borderline egotistical member of the pair, who desires openly to be the world’s greatest ping-pong player. However, despite his obvious talents, he’s lazy and doesn’t apply himself to the sport. Smile (who’s so named because he never does), is the opposite of Peco, and plays without passion or love. He says he does so simply to pass the time, and frequently submits to pal Peco during their friendly matches.

Things change between the pals when they find themselves challenged at the tables. Their coach (Naota Takenaka) pushes Smile hard, as he recognizes what Smile and even Peco do not: that Smile has surpassed his friend at ping pong. Meanwhile, Peco finds himself emotionally conflicted at Smile’s growing skill—and his newfound desire to excel. Also factoring in is the arrival of China (Sam Lee), a ringer from (duh) China who’s been enlisted by a rival high school to take them to the championship. However, standing in everyone’s way is Dragon (Shido Nakamura), the reigning champ, who’s so dedicated to the sport that he practices until he bleeds and preps before matches by isolating himself in the toilet. Eventually, Smile and Peco must come to terms with their reasons for playing ping pong, and with what it means to them personally. And, somebody must win.

Based on a manga by Taiyo Matsumoto, Ping Pong is a sports story, and as such features the usual sports themes that have been seen in many, many previous films. Tried-and-true issues of friendship, competition, individual desire, love of the game, and sportsmanship fill this flick from end-to-end. Characters openly wonder about their abilities, despair at their lack of talent, and question one another’s dedication. Some of the soul-searching seems forced; some characters discover new personal epiphanies at seemingly the drop of a hat. Also, there are your usual big matches and existential sports narration, which really provide nothing new. And, it’s all applied to the sport of ping pong, which may not excite every fan of sports films.

Still, Ping Pong manages to rise above the pitfalls of the sports genre thanks to sure, judicious direction (courtesy of first-time director Fumihiko Masuri), and a predominant tone that could only be described as quirky lyricism. The characters are so over-the-top that they’re obviously drawn from manga, but they manage to be winning and always interesting. Yosuke Kubozka brings some genuine emotion to Peco’s petulant behavior and fits of mugging, and older actors Naota Takenaka and Mari Natsuki lend fine support to the proceedings. Also, the references to Japanese superhero media, and the deadpan humor (which is typical of Japanese cinema) add charm and whimsy to the proceedings. This isn’t gut-busting stuff, but it’s funny nonetheless.

Then there’s the ping pong. While the first hour slyly eschews the ping pong for character and plot development, the second hour comes alive with entertainingly staged matches that play like a cross between Forrest Gump and Shaolin Soccer. Ping pong balls spin and change course in flight, characters leap to return serves, and slow motion abounds. The euphoric sight of the final ping pong duels should erase whatever nagging doubts you have about the film’s maddeningly slow pace, or deadpan existential wackiness. Whatever your take on the sometimes bizarre philosophy embedded in Ping Pong, you should find the table tennis action tops.

Not that the film is for everyone. That ping pong and its accompanying strategies/philosphies could be taken so seriously is a conceit that needs to win over the audience. If someone out there watched Shaolin Soccer and thought, “Man, this is silly,” then they should probably skip Ping Pong too. But those who enjoyed Shaolin Soccer, or found the anime sports melodrama of Initial D or Princess Nine enchanting, should find Ping Pong to be a winner. Sure, it’s not realistic, and it’s even more than a little strange, but this is great stuff. And quite possibly great cinema. (Kozo 2003)

Ping Pong Saves the World

In Japan, Ping Pong is more than just a sport. And Ping Pong has always been more than just a sport for the entire world. In fact, according to a PBS article, one of the first public hints of improved U.S.-China relations came on April 6, 1971, when the American Ping-Pong team, in Japan for the 31st World Table Tennis Championship, received a surprise invitation from their Chinese colleagues for an all-expense paid visit to the People’s Republic. Time magazine called it “The ping heard round the world.

On April 10, nine players, four officials, and two spouses stepped across a bridge from Hong Kong to the Chinese mainland, ushering in an era of “Ping-Pong diplomacy.” They were the first group of Americans allowed into China since the Communist takeover in 1949.

In 1956, the Chinese table tennis team was invited to take part in the 23rd World Championship held in Tokyo, the first sports exchange between the two countries since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

As recently as last year, Chinese President Hu Jintao (Front R) played table tennis with Japanese table tennis player Ai Fukuhara (Front L) during the opening ceremony of the 2008 Japan-China youth friendly exchange year at the Waseda University in Tokyo.

The “China-Japan Youth Friendly Exchange Year” program was deemed a success by the leaders of the two countries last year. On March 15, 2008, the opening ceremony was held in Beijing. China and Japan then carried out a series of youth exchange activities in areas such as culture, academics, environmental protection, science, technology, media, TV, film and tourism.

A Japanese youth delegation consisting of representatives from all walks of life such as youth members of the parliament, senior high school students, college students, civil servants, corporate employees, and reporters arrived in Beijing on December 18, 2008 and visited Ningbo, Hangzhou, Shenyang, Dalian, Jinan, Qingdao, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Xi’an, Nanchang, Shanghai, and Tianjin.

Yasuo Fukuda said that Japan-China relations are developing smoothly toward the direction of mutual benefits from a strategic perspective. In the face of the current international financial crisis and challenges, Japan and China, in particular, should deepen cooperation and contribute to the financial stability and economic development of the two countries and the region. Yasuo Fukuda said that the foundation of Japan-China relations should be based on the promotion of mutual understanding and friendship between the people, especially between the youth. China-Japan Youth Friendly Exchange Year achieved a complete success. The Japanese side will continue to promote the exchange between the youth of the two countries.

So who can say Ping Pong is child’s play?

Ping Pong