Oppai Volleyball (2009)

5 Junior High School boys share the same dream. Of touching, or even seeing a pair of breasts. When a new young female teacher, Mikako Terashima, is put in charge of their volleyball team they make her a deal: If they win a game in the upcoming tournament she will show them her breasts. The only problem is that they’re hopeless at volleyball,  having never played or even trained before. But with this fantastic reward ahead of them the boys suddenly find a renewed will to train hard and persevere. The film also looks at the life of their teacher and her reasons for moving to a new school and her passion for education.

The film works well as a light high-school comedy. Plenty of jokes and a good summer soundtrack. Mikako’s story is intended to add a sense of drama to the story with her contemplations on her career. This does add an element of gravitas to the largely frivolous story, but at times seems an unusual contrast. The film captures the youthful spirit and the jokes are funny, albeit mostly on the same theme. The acting is also solid from Ayase Haruka, as the overwhelmed teacher, and the boys, who deliver their lines with real zeal.

Oppai Volleyball (or Boob Volleyball) great feel-good summer sports film with an unusual MacGuffin (or pair of MacGuffins) providing a look at the humorous side of adolescence and education. Teaching us, in a roundabout way, that working hard for a goal you believe in is a noble thing.

Based on a novel by Mizuno Munenori.

Ping Pong (2002)

Ping Pong tells the story of two friends and their struggles to succeed at ping pong in inter-school championships. The child-like “Peco” Hoshino and his ever serious friend Tsukimoto (nicknamed “Smile” as he rarely smiles) have been friends for a long time. They are the top two player in the Katase High ping pong club and unassailable until a new chinese player arrives and solidly beats Hoshino in a friendly match, and Hoshino is then beaten by Sakuma, a student from rival Kaio school. Hoshino, at first so distressed he gives up training, then decides to stage a comeback at the next tournament. Meanwhile, his friend “Smile” who only plays to kill time and often lets people win despite his superiority also decides to try hard at the competition.

The film is well paced with plenty of character driven jokes. At first Hoshino is a little annoying as his character, incredibly over-the-top immaturity, but this mellows somewhat later in the film. Although the story is pretty basic, the cast of the two leads, their rivals and their trainers, all with very distinct personalities and styles make the film enjoyable. It’s also very well shot, utilising camera angles and shots to liven up the story, and only occasionally straying into manga-esque CG trickery.

The movie revolves around the philosophies of ping pong, the determination needed to win and the fierce rivalries. Although it’s a comedy, the parts which are meant to be serious are done well enough to evoke the desired emotions. In the end it’s a story of friendship and striving for something that you believe in, made interesting by superb directing and acting. One of the better Japanese sports films.

Based on the manga by Taiyo Matsumoto.

Waterboys (2001)

Suzuki, the sole member of his high-school swimming team, is joined by many more when a new young teacher joins as coach. When she decides to form a synchronised swimming team she whittles these recruits down to an awkward group of five who are willing to carry on her dream, even when she leaves to have a baby. As the boys train they gain in confidence and ability as the move towards the end of term event where they will perform.

The film moves at a quick fire pace and continually wrong-foots the audience with minor plot twists and unexpected jokes. The acting and camaraderie of the leads is heart-warming as this odd quintet pursue their unusual dream. A fantastic feel good summer film which, despite a tenuous  premise, fills the running time admirably with plenty of laughs. The direction is similarly beautiful and the synchronised swimming is surprisingly good when it does happen.

A film about friendship and the sense of achievement which comes of seeing something through to the end despite people’s raised eyebrows the film is a triumphant celebration of that end-of-high-school feeling. Definitely a recommended watch if you want a solid summer comedy.