Directed by Masaki Kobayashi
To this point in the Baseball marathon, the film selections have been one of two different styles. Typically you will have your baseballer profiler (i.e. The Pride of the Yankees, The Stratton Story, etc.), or you have the sentimental approach to the game (i.e. Angels in the Outfield, The Kid from Left Field, etc.). What Kobayashi brings with I Will Buy You is something else completely, which breathes very welcome fresh air into the marathon. Given, I love the sentimental approach, the mild legend worship pictures, but seeing a darker side of baseball, a new take in the genre of baseball films really has me excited to continue the marathon to continue to find hidden gems like this one, even if the majority of the films left likely will return to either profile or sentiment.
Another unique aspect of I Will Buy You is its subject matter. Hardly focusing on play in the field, or even the baseball player in question, the film explores the darker underworld of baseball scouting and the drive for teams to stop at nothing to sign a top prospect, or for the prospect and his posse to drive up the price. Our central character is Mr. Kishimoto (Keiji Sada), the scout for the Toyo Flowers. A young, exuberant scout, Kishimoto is in search of a great prospect, but has been coming up empty until he comes across Goro Kurita (Minoru Oki), a power hitter with great potential. Kishimoto must compete with numerous other teams and even Kurita’s current coach, Kyuki, who seems more interested in his finder’s fee than really getting Kurita signed.
There is really so much I could talk about from this film, which turns out to be one of its greatest strengths, its depth. The complexity of all of the characters involved in the pursuit of Kurita, including Goro himself, draws a fascinating perspective to the fun, pure, child’s game of baseball. Seeing this film after a series of fairly saccharine baseball yarns really highlighted the dichotomy between the two styles and approaches. Bringing out the more seedy aspects of the professional game, in Japan or anywhere really, sheds new light and a different side of the story. It may be Hollywood and dream land to imagine these professional players as upstanding citizens and boy scouts all around, but when it comes down to brass tax, it’s a profession, done for monetary gain from the stands, to the clubhouse, to the owner’s box.
It would, perhaps, be a little naïve to assume that baseball was a cotton candy, soda pop profession where you get to have the greatest of fun inspiring throngs of children to lifelong dreams, but seeing the reality is a different beast altogether, especially at such a time in cinematic history, when the Hollywood output sugarcoated the game of baseball from top to bottom. By the end I wasn’t sure whether I could trust any of the characters involved, and even the ones I wanted to feel sympathy towards, those whose intentions began to somewhat becomes clearly defined, or clearly regretted, I didn’t know whether any of it was real, or whether Kishimoto, Kyuki, Kurita and Fudeko were all still scheming a way to get what they wanted. I would be endlessly curious to re-examine this film at some point in the future, not something I could easily say about some of the other films already viewed in this marathon.