Review for Deadball
You wait for one crazy, cult, extreme violence, gore, splatter Japanese comic blood fest, and then two come along at the same time. It's not all that surprising though that Deadball is being released on the same day as Yakuza Weapon. They are both Sushi Typhoon productions, both directed by and starring Yûdai Yamaguchi and Tak Sakaguchi, and indeed you'll find that Deadball has the second part of an extra feature that you'll see on the Yakuza Weapon release. There is something odd going on here though. Deadball clearly has the bigger budget, the bigger cast, and the better production values, yet it's Yakuza Weapon that gets a Blu-ray release in the UK and I'm only looking at the DVD release for Deadball. It's also not the first psychotic baseball outing for Yûdai Yamaguchi and company, as they've previously combined zombies and baseball in Battlefield Baseball. Deadball doesn't have zombies. It has Nazis instead!
Jubeh Yakyu could have been one of the greats of Japanese baseball, a veritable childhood prodigy, were it not for a freak pitching accident that killed his father, and traumatised his younger brother. Swearing off baseball for the rest of his life, Jubeh instead grew up to be a vigilante delinquent instead, delivering justice for the little man where the police couldn't be asked. Naturally he became public enemy number one. He's captured after a killing spree and sent to the Pterodactyl Juvenile Reformatory, a facility where his brother was rumoured to be incarcerated. He finds an institution run like a concentration camp, by Ishihara, the granddaughter of a Nazi collaborator.
He soon learns that his brother died in the facility, and that Ishihara has some odd plans for the inmates. She wants a baseball team to compete in a national tournament, and she knows of Jubeh's demon pitching arm. She'll do whatever it takes to convince him to play, including threatening the life of his cellmate, Four-Eyes. Their first opponents will be the lethal girls of St Black Dahlia High School, but when the day of the game arrives, Jubeh learns that this is far from baseball.
You get a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer, which is a progressively encoded NTSC image. It's clear and sharp throughout, with good levels of detail and nice contrast. The image is free of significant compression artefacts, and the CG, while cartoonish and over the top, blends well with the on screen action. Deadball is a visually inventive and over the top movie, very much a live action cartoon, with plenty of blood, guts, and exploding body parts, and one or two quite creepy bits of body horror comedy. You have been warned.
You also get the star treatment when it comes to the audio. Deadball, a 98-minute film is released as a 2 disc set, and you'll understand why when you find the full-bitrate DTS 5.1 Japanese audio track, alongside the usual DD 5.1 offering. It's a resounding audio experience, one that reflects the film's lower production values, but still offers much when it comes to the film's action sequences and the music score. The dialogue is clear throughout, and the subtitles are timed accurately and are free of error. The only quibble I have is the very ill-placed layer change, actually in the middle of a word.
Deadball is a two disc collection, understandable given the DTS on the feature disc. Both discs get simple static menus, jacket pictures to look at when the discs aren't spinning, and the only extra feature on disc 1 is the isolated music score that accompanies the film, presented in DD 5.1 Surround.
Disc 2 offers about an hour's worth of extra video, with The Making of Deadball giving you about 13 minutes of b-roll footage.
Final Deadball - Short Film, is a 21-minute companion piece to the movie, featuring one of the players who managed to avoid the lethality of the game, was then released into society to try and go straight. In this short homage to Final Destination, he learns that fate and lethal baseballs cannot be cheated.
Toki's Wedding Part 2 is a companion featurette to that on the Yakuza Weapon release, and lasts 16 minutes.
Battlefield Baseball High School is a 4 minute spoof video. The Opening Day Stage Greeting lets the cast and crew speak at the movie's premiere for 6 minutes. The Cast Interviews are brief, soundbite snippets with the cast that last 8 minutes in total, and the Cast Reunion, for some bizarre reason has the cast of Battlefield Baseball invited to a screening of Deadball (9 minutes).
Finally there is the film's trailer.
I wanted to like Deadball, especially after having been surprised by just how appealing Yakuza Weapon is. Coming from the same creative team, with the same star and director, and with the added attraction of a psychotic sports based storyline, and with Nazis no less, I figured that Deadball would be even better. The shorter run time also hinted at a tighter narrative, and faster paced gags and mayhem. Unfortunately, Deadball turns out to be barely a patch on Yakuza Weapon, despite the better production values, and an even zanier sense of humour. I guess the difference is in that Yakuza Weapon is adapted from an existing manga property, while from what I can see Deadball is an original creation.
On the bright side, it is funny, at times downright hilarious, with some great sight gags, and some very twisted humour. It revels in its cartoon violence, and it makes no bones about being unashamedly politically incorrect. Our hero comes straight out of a spaghetti western, wearing a poncho and spurs, and there's a running gag that whenever he feels like it, he can reach off camera and magically obtain a lit cigarette. His entrance into the reform school is illustrated when a nearby baseball pitcher decides to test him with a lethal pitch, only for him to pick up a midget bystander and use him to bat the ball back, and the ball to hit the pitcher in the eye, and stay lodged there for the rest of the movie.
So the film proceeds with bizarre fights, wacky action sequences, oddball characters, and plenty of blood and guts. And none of it is really for the faint of heart. This is extreme comedy cinema that pushes the limits, just like Yakuza Weapon. You do not want to see the body cavity search scene if you've just been eating. Although if you've ever wondered what that Austin Powers sight gag would look like if it was real, here's your chance.
You'd think that this would be just like Yakuza Weapon then, but while the ingredients are the same, the pudding doesn't taste quite as good. For one thing, the spaghetti western character that Jubeh turns out to be is a little understated for the intensity of the comedy, and really needs to be just as brash as the humour. But the bigger problem is that the narrative is lacking. Deadball is really just a collection of funny bits held together loosely by a plot, and stuff happens for comic effect without driving the story forward. It's awfully fragmented as a result, and the pace never picks up, the movie never really hooks. By the end of the film, there appears a North Korean leader character, and it seems the only reason he's in the movie, is because they can make a joke about his hair. There's no point to him otherwise, and he has no other impact on the story.
I was hoping that Deadball would be Shaolin Soccer, but with baseball, Nazis and extreme cartoon violence, but instead it turns out merely to be fun, but forgettable. I guess this is why it's Yakuza Weapon that gets the Blu-ray.