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Rookies the Movie: Graduation

We have dreams, and they involve young men: the cast of Rookies.


Year: 2009
Director: Yuichiro Hirakawa  

Ryuta Sato, Hayato Ichihara, Keisuke Koide, Yuu Shirota, Akiyoshi Nakao, Sousuke Takaoka, Kenta Kiritani, Takeru Sato, Shunji Igarashi, Yosuke Kawamura, Hiroyuki Onoue, Yusuke Yamamoto, Takuya Ishida, Haruka Ayase, Eri Murakawa, Atsuro Watabe, Kohei Takeda, Hiroyuki Amano, Anna Nose, Hiroyuki Hirayama, Kazuyuki Asano, Kazue Fukiishi, Ren Osugi, Masato Ibu, Yoshio Murayama

The Skinny: Great for fans, but only partially convincing for the uninitiated. Rookies should please anyone who enjoyed the original TV drama - so if you're one of them, get happy. If you're not, then mileage will most definitely vary.
by Kozo:
Rookies the Movie: Graduation works overtime to please, and the film's blockbuster status indicates that fans were indeed satisfied. Non-fans, however, may only be partially convinced. The sequel to a popular 2008 TV drama that was based on a popular manga, Rookies continues the story of the Futakotamagawa High baseball team, a group of thuggish delinquents who were once suspended for getting into a massive on-field brawl. However, as related in the TV drama, the team learned to trust their new coach Koichi Kawato (Ryuta Sato of Gachi Boy) and resolved to make it all the way to Koshien Stadium, the home of Japan's yearly high school championship. Along the way they learned about life and love, plus overacted and got all teary while talking about their dreams. Yep, just like every other J-Drama about reformed delinquents. Tough high school thugs who cry with their teachers - it's practically its own genre.

In keeping with that, Rookies presents a cinematic continuation of the television drama - minus the "cinematic" part. Sure, the movie is shot on film and features moments where a film camera moves. However, presentation here is only slightly better than normal television, with everything rendered in an obvious and self-indulgent way. Characters don't converse in Rookies - they explain, and everybody seemingly has the infinite patience to hang around and listen. The film also relates its pet themes in constantly repeated dialogue, with characters frequently talking about pursuing their dreams, hoping to see their dreams come true, and likely the dreams they had yesterday as they were having a dream about pursuing their dream. Every time a character talks to another character about their dreams or their respect for someone else's dreams, the music swells unbearably, and sometimes this can happen two or three times within the span of five minutes! As an accomplished piece of cinema, Rookies lacks.

Rookies essentially features two halves with various subplots interspersed throughout. In the first half, the team gears up for their senior season and their run at Koshien, with two new recruits making waves. The fabulously skilled Akahoshi (Yusuke Yamamoto) is too arrogant to play nicely with his new teammates, while Hamanaka (Takuya Ishida) is disappointed that his idol, team jester Hiratsuka (Kenta Kiritani), is all talk and no skill. Not surprisingly, both are integrated into the fold with some cloying, but still effective moments of unspoken honor and respect shining through. Then it's off to the film's centerpiece: an hour-long baseball game where many subplots bubble to the surface, greatest among them a lingering rivalry between star player Aniya (Hayato Ishihara) and the other team's opposing pitcher. The film actually achieves some fine sports tension here, as the players contend with superior pitching, injuries and their own determination to see things through. With the other team pulling ahead, will Futakotamagawa High fold or rise to the occasion?

As expected, they do rise to the occasion, though even doing that doesn't guarantee that they'll win. Despite being a pandering commercial film, Rookies effectively pushes themes of sportsmanship and teamwork, such that one may feel they accomplished something regardless of the outcome. The final hour of baseball action is actually fairly involving, even with plenty of screentime devoted to the handsome boys crying and urging each other on homoerotically. The soulful emoting during the final stretch gets tiring the rampant stoppages of play during the final game tax any sort of realism but the characters are much more engaging when emoting on the baseball field than off it. One particular moment of overdone emotional release earns its wings, effectively capturing just how exhausting and utterly overwhelming victory or defeat can be. Rookies goes overboard with the manly weeping, but when the players are on the playing field, it has cause to. If only it didn't happen so much.

The sports lifts Rookies beyond being just a "fan-only" film, making it accessible to those who haven't seen the drama. However, familiarity with the drama would improve the viewing experience by about 9000 percent - otherwise the references, cameos and self-indulgent filmmaking mean a whole lot less. When the ending rolls around, each player on the team gets 1-2 minutes to tell their teacher how they feel about him, and their words are respectful, glowing and overly emotional - and we have to listen to all ten of the players! That final bit of fan service pushes the film to its epic 137 minute running time, which is a long haul for someone who just turned up to watch some baseball. However, if the idea was to watch the same cute guys as the Rookies TV series overact on the big screen, then this movie is an unqualified home run. On some level, it's impossible to rate a TV-to-film sequel poorly unless it completely, totally diverges from the original's themes and tone. Rookies does not. (Kozo 2009)


DVD (Japan)
Region 2 NTSC
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

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