Ping Pong Review
The genre of sports films is one that abounds in cliché and usually follows a set formula – that of the underdog team or individual who overcomes adversity, finding someone who believes in them (usually a coach), and after a few initial setbacks and against overwhelming odds, their perseverance, honesty, talent and a bit of luck, takes them through to a spectacular victory. From Rocky to Escape to Victory to The Mighty Ducks, you more or less know what to expect. I could be wrong, but I think Ping Pong could be the first appearance of table tennis within the sports genre, immediately marking out the film's originality. Based on a Japanese manga comic (where the sports genre conventions are usually even more predictable than movie treatments) and already adapted to the screen in an anime series, Ping Pong manages to work within these conventions and still pull out something fresh and different.
Hoshino (known as Peco) and Tsukimoto are two table tennis playing friends at the Katase Secondary School. They have been friends from childhood, the loud and lively Peco looking after his quieter, sensitive friend. These characteristics carry though to the ping-pong table. While Peco is brash and extravagant in his playing, and the top player at school, Tsukimoto isn’t at all competitive, playing the game for fun and just to pass the time, unwilling to humiliate those for whom the sport means much more. Other people however can see the talent and unrealised potential within him, particularly the school coach. Once known as Butterfly Joe, the king of Japanese table tennis, the coach tries to encourage Tsukimoto to play to his full potential in the current table tennis championship finals, but he is aware that the final is shaping up to be a repeat of the one that ended his own career 30 years previously and it is also one that brings to the surface an incident from both boys’ childhood that has shaped their lives.
From a plot description, Ping Pong doesn’t appear to be that much different from the formulaic conventions of the genre, but there is much more to film than that. It’s full of colourful characters that do indeed look like they walked off the comic page – Demon, Dragon, Smile, China, Granny, Coach – each has their own strong characteristics, look and purpose, each of them fulfilling more than just a secondary role, being fully developed and immediately identifiable. The film also has a strong visual look, which is important to make repeated games of two people rallying a ball across a table look interesting and exciting. The film doesn’t over-rely on effects, using them almost invisibly for the most part and appropriately saving the more extravagant CGI flourishes, lightning shots and slow-motion bullet-time effects for the climactic sequences of the film.
But the film takes its visual stamp further than this, not just to spice up sporting sequences as would be expected, but also employing some fantasy visual flourishes in flashback sequences that add to the mythological tone of heroic sporting achievement. Ping Pong takes on the conventions of the sporting genre, particularly the boxing film’s struggle of the individual to rise above their limitations, and takes it to another level entirely, into the sphere of meditative transcendence, oriental mysticism and ultimately advocates the inspirational sensei leadership ethic over individual achievement. In doing so Ping Pong overturns the traditional western concept of the pre-eminence of the victor in favour of the more human qualities of leadership, friendship, and inspiration. Due to the fact that it applies these principles to a sport like table-tennis rather than say a more conventional martial arts contest, makes the film a refreshing and uplifting, if occasionally mystifying exception to the typical self-empowerment ethic of the average sporting film.
Ping Pong is released on DVD in the UK by ICA Projects as a Region 2 DVD. The DVD is barebones in the extreme, making use of none of the features offered by the format – not even chapter selection. The menu gives the option to play and nothing more.
The same principal is applied to the picture quality – offering the bare minimum for the film’s effective presentation, but nothing more than that, compressing the almost two-hour film onto a single-layer DVD5 disc. The image is colourful but never really sparkles and blacks are strong enough without showing any real depth of detail. The brightness and contrast levels are generally good and this, along with the absence of any marks on the print carry the transfer reasonably effectively. Some compression artefacts are visible, showing up blocking and flicker mainly in the image refresh of slow camera pans. You'll notice some combing in frames if examined frame by frame, but this is not visible in normal playback and causes few problems with static shots or the faster moving sequences which are a blur in any case. Overall the image is just average – it looks just about as good as it needs to without being in any way exceptional. The film is transferred anamorphically at a ratio of 1.75:1.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is also adequate, while being the barebones minimum acceptable. ICA Projects haven’t included the original surround mix (included as DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes on the Japanese Special Edition), which would seriously lessen the impact of the rattling games and auditorium ambience. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mix included here copes fairly well, although one or two sequences seem cluttered with dialogue, music and background noises not being clearly enough separated. For the most part however, the dialogue and sound effects are clear, but considering how this could have been mixed, it’s a disappointing audio track.
Considering the specifications of the rest of the disc, it is hardly surprising that English subtitles are fixed on the transfer and not removable.
There are no extra features on the disc. Considering the wealth of material available and included on the Japanese Special Edition, a token effort would have at least been appreciated to place the film in some kind of context with its manga and anime counterparts.
Ping Pong is an entertaining and well-made debut from the director who has since gone on to produce the new Appleseed film, that puts a refreshing twist on the motivational aspects of sporting achievement, while remaining for the most part a recognisable example of the genre. I found it a little bit too long and a little bit too conventional for the most part, but in terms of its unique approach, wonderful characterisation, funny script and the ambiguous and atypical ending, it pays-off spectacularly, raising intriguing questions and interpretations. ICA Project’s UK Region 2 DVD release is pitiful in comparison to the Japanese edition – a barebones affair with middling audio-visual quality and no extra features this is just about adequate for home-viewing of the film, but certainly not as a full-price DVD.
Last updated: 27/06/2018 05:06:40