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Friendship in difficult times

Masatoshi Nagase is surrounded by actors and children in Taiwan.

Publication Date : 07-03-2014

 

A new film depicts friendship between a Japanese and Taiwanese high school baseball players during the colonial period

 

Great enthusiasm enveloped the central train station in Chiayi, Taiwan, when Japanese actor Masatoshi Nagase arrived there near the end of February for the premiere of Kano, his latest film.

The Taiwan movie is based on the true story of Hyotaro Kondo, a Japanese man who in summer 1931 led his multiethnic high school baseball team from Taiwan to the final game of Japan’s national baseball tournament at Koshien Stadium in Hyogo Prefecture. Back then, Taiwan was under Japanese colonial rule.

Close to 100,000 spectators gathered to watch Nagase and other actors parade down the city’s main street, just like the triumphant students did more than 80 years ago.

“In a difficult time like that, he formed the team, braving various prejudices and discrimination,” said Nagase, who plays Kondo in the film. “I’m proud of him as a Japanese comrade, and I want many more people to learn about his life.”

Kondo was the skipper of the baseball team of Kagi Norin (Chiayi Agricultural and Forestry) Vocational High School, which was widely known as Kano. Initially, the baseball team was winless and weak, but Kondo managed to make full use of the characteristics of the Japanese, Taiwan and indigenous Taiwan players.

Directed by Taiwan actor Umin Boya (Ma Chih-Hsiang) in his directorial debut, the film began playing Thursday in about 200 cinemas across Taiwan. The cast also includes Maki Sakai as Kondo’s wife and Takao Osawa as Yoichi Hatta, the Japanese engineer who was dubbed the “father of the dam” in Taiwan for designing and building the Wushantou Reservoir.

Visiting Taiwan to promote the movie, Nagase said he saw the finished film during the premiere at Chiayi Baseball Field on February 22.

“It was the first time for me to see one of my films with 2,000 spectators in a baseball stadium,” Nagase said. “The sound was not perfect [because we were outdoors], and I tend to look for flaws in my own performance at first. But even so, I was filled with emotion as the audience applauded when the end credits appeared on-screen.”

He returned home Friday after an eight-day stay in Taiwan.

Nagase wondered at first whether he should take the role, which was offered to him around spring 2012.

“The shooting schedule overlapped with my preparations for a photo exhibition to mark the 30th anniversary of my acting career. So I thought it would be physically impossible,” he said.

However, he changed his mind after reading the script.

“I found it incredibly interesting. The story was about a Japanese man who didn’t give up his dream in the midst of a difficult time. He formed a baseball team, getting rid of prejudices and discrimination. And people around him responded to his passion,” Nagase said.

“I’m proud of what he achieved as a Japanese, and the Taiwan people were wonderful. I thought it would be great if the film helped more people know about the story. I want the audience to look at not only baseball but also how people’s minds change,” he said.

Nagase repeatedly discussed what kind of person Kondo was with the director and others during shooting.

“We’re a generation that barely knows what the war was like. For instance, some of our grandfathers actually went to the war, but members of their generation tend to be reluctant to speak about it. We’re aware of such an atmosphere. I thought I had to convey that to the production staff,” Nagase said.

The film’s production cost was about 700 million yen (US$6.81 million), one of the largest in Taiwan’s film industry. The Koshien Stadium that appears in the latter part of the film was actually a huge set built on a factory site in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

“I assumed the shooting would take place at Koshien, but I was surprised to hear them saying, ‘We’ve built Koshien.’ The stadium today seems to look a little different from what it used to look back then,” Nagase said. “Thanks to the financial backing of the central and city governments, they could make everything they wanted.”

“We have films as a common language, so I hope Japan and Taiwan will become even closer to each other,” Nagase said. “I’d like to make more films with Taiwan people in the future.”

 

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