Opening Day in Major League Baseball is just a couple days away. Except for Boxing, no other sport was put on screen as often as baseball, America’s pastime. Instead of writing about the most popular titles like The Natural, Field of Dreams, Major League or the recently Oscar-nominated Moneyball, I suggest 5 lesser-known entries on the subject.
1 – I Will Buy You (Anata kaimasu, Masaki Kobayashi, 1956)
A professional baseball scout is entitled to convince a promising athlete to sign with the team of the Toyo Flowers.
Before his stunning Human Condition trilogy, Japanese director Masaki Kobayashi made this tremendous film about Japan’s professional baseball industry. It is a very engaging (if pitiless) look at the popular sport in 1950s Japan. Unlike many of his American counterparts, this is not a flattering portrait of the sport as the film exposes all maneuvers by rival scouts to sign the promising baseball player.
2- Fear Strikes Out (Robert Mulligan, 1957)
Inspired by the true story of professional baseball player Jimmy Piersall, who battled mental illness to achieve stardom in the MLB.
Fear Strikes Out Features some amazing performances by Anthony Perkins ( predating Psycho deranged-character) and Karl Marlden as the ambitious father pushing his son too far until his nerves break and he has to undergo psychoanalysis therapy to recover. This a solid picture equally good as a sport film and as a drama on mental illness.
3- Eight Men Out (John Sayles, 1989)
A dramatization of the Black Sox scandal when the underpaid Chicago White Sox took bribes and deliberately lost the 1919 World Series.
Overlooked by the success of Bull Durham who was release a few weeks earlier and grossed ten times more than this film, this sincere and critical look at baseball’s biggest scandal before the ‘Roids area was a love project for director John Sayles. Because of several lawsuits and rejections by Orion, it took him 11 years to get the movie made. This is a must-see for any baseball or sports fan.
4- Mr. Gam’s Victory (Superstar Gam Sa-Yong, Kim Jong-hyun, 2004)
1982. It’s the first year of Korea’s Pro-Baseball League and a young left-hand pitcher is able to join the Sammi Superstars, the worst team in the league. After some relief appearances, Gam Sa-Yong has finally a chance to start a game against the League’s Best pitcher who is about to win his 20th consecutive games.
The mix of sports, drama and comedy is well-balanced in this story of one man’s goal to fulfill his dream of being a starter in Korea’s first Pro-League. It features some good baseball sequences and the final game is simply one of the best of the genre since the final game of The Natural.
5- Sugar (Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, 2008)
A young Dominican baseball star is recruited to play in the minor leagues in the United States.
This documentary-style drama is perhaps the most fascinating and sincere foray into the baseball world. This richly-engaged and textured film also deals about politics, poverty and the way immigrants are left to themselves. Sugar is to baseball what Hoop Dreams was to basketball.