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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Ping Pong
Ping Pong
VIZ // Unrated // September 4, 2007
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Jamie S. Rich | posted January 5, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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Taiyo Matsumoto is the creator of some of the strangest manga out there, but somehow his singular, skewed artistry has worked its way off of the printed page and onto the movie screen and still bears the creator's stamp. Last year I had the pleasure of reviewing Tekkonkinkreet, the anime adaptation of Matsumoto's most famous comic, and it's still one of my favorite releases of 2007. Ping Pong is a slightly older film, having originally been released in Japan in 2002, but it didn't hit DVD until last September, about the same time as Tekkonkinkreet. It kind of slipped by unnoticed--and undeservedly so.

Directed by Sori, whose previous credits are largely behind the scenes in the effects department, Ping Pong is essentially a straight-up sports movie. Two young boys, the obnoxiously outgoing Peco (Yosuke Kubozuka) and the obnoxiously reserved, ironically nicknamed Smile (Arata), grew up together playing table tennis in a ratty parlor run by the chain-smoking Granny (Mari Natsuki). Now that they are in high school together and playing for the school ping-pong team, the split in their personalities has never been more apparent. Peco is wild and undisciplined, and Smile never throws himself into a game completely. He can't bear to see the other guy lose.

At a fateful match, both boys seemingly have their fortunes change. Peco is defeated by their third childhood friend, the goony Demon (Koji Ookura), while Smile once again throws in the towel rather than allow Kong (Sam Lee), a cocky Chinese exchange student, to be sent back home a loser. The real enemy also emerges, an unstoppable player named Dragon (Shido Nakamura), who buries himself in competition in a manner that mixes Zen calm with masochistic determination. After their losses, Peco swears off table tennis and becomes a slacker, while Smile submits to a coach (Naoto Takenaka) in order to finally get the eye of the tiger.

The rest of Ping Pong plays out just how you might expect. Will the goofy boy ever get his act together and meet his true potential? Will the serious boy learn to balance his compassion with a real competitive drive? More importantly, will Smile ever actually smile? He's only been seen to do it once, and everyone is waiting for him to do it again. Ping Pong has been called the "Breaking Away of table tennis," and that's not meant as a pejorative. There's a reason the sports movie formula works.

So, yes, while Ping Pong does travel down some well-worn paths, if the sports movies have taught us anything, it's not if you win, it's how you play the game. Sori plays the game excellently. His direction manages a visual kineticism that keeps the ping-pong matches exciting. A ping-pong ball isn't the biggest tool for the eye to track, but Sori keeps his camera and his players moving, working their dual energy to a fever pitch. If the matches are digitally manipulated at all, the effects are seamless; however it was done, the boys all look like champion players.

They also all look like Taiyo Matsumoto characters. I don't know if the casting director sat there with the comic book when auditions were being held, but most of these guys look like they jumped right out of Matsumoto's inkwell. Yosuke Kubozuka, with his bowl haircut and rubbery smile, could easily be little White from Tekkonkinkreet all grown up. So, too, do the reptilian Shido Nakamura and the goony Kojo Ookura look like Matsumoto villains. Many of the familiar Matsumoto themes are also present, including concepts of brotherhood and self-actualization through aliases and invented personas. Fans of the artist's work, or of the previous movie adaptations (which also include Blue Spring), won't be disappointed in Ping Pong, even if it is the most "normal" of the bunch.

It's always fun to join a group of misfits and root for the good guys to win, and so in this manner, Ping Pong hits its mark right across the net. Goofy fun, but fun nonetheless. You never knew table tennis could be such a delight to watch. The film is not going to win any big championships, not by a long stretch, but it is one you can look back on in later years and fondly remember as time well spent enjoying the pleasures of knocking a little white ball back and forth.


Viz Media has brought Ping Pong to DVD as a colorful 16:9 anamorphic transfer. The images leap off the screen without any combing or other edge enhancement problems, and though my DVD was a little twitchy at times, I didn't see anything else to complain about in this very conscientious effort.

The Dolby mix of the Japanese soundtrack is equally impressive, with lots of well-placed effects in the front and back speakers. You'll take particular note of the surround-sound atmosphere created for the ping-pong matches

The removable English subtitles are yellow, and they are easy to read, paced at a good speed and well written.

The U.S. release of Ping Pong is a double-disc set. The first disc has the movie, as well as text profiles of the director and cast and four trailers for other Viz live action DVDs (the same movies are advertised in a paper insert you will find in the DVD case).

DVD 2 is exclusively supplemental materials, including three bonus films pertaining to the movie:
* Making of Ping Pong (54 minutes): Fairly standard, but also interesting in that it reveals that the ping pong balls in the film were digital, requiring special training of the actors and an involved effects process, some of which is shown. We also get information on casting, locations, the soundtrack, and a little on the genesis of the project and the original manga.
* Ting Pong (16 min.): This short parody features one of the side characters in the movie leading his own fantasy life in search of love and ping-pong fame. Not great, but worth it for the scene where he tries to drink the raw eggs.
* How to Play Ping Pong (16 min.): Truth in advertising! This is a tutorial on table tennis.

There are also TV commercials and trailers from the original Japanese release of Ping Pong--as well as a couple of repeat extraneous trailers from DVD 1.

Recommended. If you like sports films, with their underdogs and rivalries and changing fortunes, then you should like Ping Pong. Distinctive characters, solid visuals, and a sport that doesn't usually get movies made about it make the film special even if its overall story arc isn't exactly breaking any new ground. Like any good movie in this genre, Ping Pong is both funny and heartfelt, and the director, Sori, manages to make the competition exciting. Plus, a disc of bonus features. Not a bad package.

Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.

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