My little sister may be a Japonophile, but it’s still surprising that Ping Pong landed on her cine-radar before mine, especially because Kankurô Kudô‘s feature-film debut doesn’t feel modeled after the pop hyperactivity of Shaolin Soccer. This is not to say there isn’t an arresting visual brio to this goofball confection. Except for a few shots that have been slowed down to extol the sonic-speed acuity with which a player flips a paddle in his hands, few visual effects have been used to doll up the story’s mesmeric ping pong matches. Tragically, the plot of the film is not so enthralling, though Kudô‘s estimation of sportsmanship is remarkably spiritual. The story revolves around the relationship between two friends—the spastic Peco (Yôsuke Kubozuka) and the reserved Tsukimoto (Arata)—and their vastly different gaming styles. Tsukimoto is called “Smile” because he never does, and his initiation into the world of ping pong is conveyed via a series of flashbacks to Peco and Smile’s childhood that make absolutely no attempt to shed light on their pasts—where they came from, how they met, and how their friendship persisted into adulthood. Sketchy as its lack of dramatic detail and psychological nuance may be, Ping Pong is not without its surprises, not least of which is the way Kudô undermines whatever expectation you may have that Smile will crack a grin at some point and use his joy as some sort of secret weapon. More arresting, Kudô neatly codes allusions to yin-yangs into his frames, stressing time and again that the game of ping pong is not about winning so much as it is a matter of social camaraderie and blissful self-reflection.
- VIZ Pictures
- 115 min
- Fumihiko Sori
- Kankurô Kudô
- Yôsuke Kubozuka, Arata, Sam Lee, Shido Nakamura, Koji Ookura, Naoto Takenaka, Mari Natsuki
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: