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Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Bad News Bears Go To Japan

I've been busy these past few days burning candles on both ends and along the sides, with deadline pressures at work, a side project I'll tell you about later, and writing these blogs.

Along the way, I've found some time to watch a few movies and TV shows with my son: Cars 2, The Simpson's and the focus of this blog: The Bad News Bears Go To Japan.

I should mention that all of those things we watched today all had elements of Japan in them, as Cars 2 had a race in Tokyo, Simpson's cracked a Godzilla joke, and the Bears... well...

Being a kid once, I watched the Bad News Bears at the movie theater when it first came out - starting in 1976 with The Bad News Bears, the 1977 Bad News Bears In Breaking Training and the 1978's The  Bad News Bears Go To Japan.

This trilogy is a kid's baseball set of flicks about a bunch of lovable losers who suck at baseball and life and somehow mange to lose and win at the same time.

While The Bears pulled a Rocky and lost the league championships in the first movie (they Lost??!!) starring Walter Mathau and Tatum O'Neal (sexy then when I was 12! and still sexy now as whatever age I am) and Jackie Earle Haley (excellent in The Human Target TV show!) - not to mention the grandson of Harpo Marx, Brett... they somehow were invited to participate next year in an exhibition game as the California Champs versus the Texas champs at the Houston Astrodome, then home of the then Houston Astros MLB baseball team.

Houston, when it first came into the National League, were known as the Houston Colt .45's - named after the gun (Texas...). But... when the Astrodome was built, and they moved into the first stadium to used artificial grass (astro turf), they changed their name to the Houston Astros because Houston was the place where American rockets were blasting off from.

Anyhow... this movie now starred William Devane as the manager and had Jimmy Baio (brother of Scott from the TV show Happy Days and Arrested Development), and had the whole remaining team come back. The movie is perhaps famous for their "Let Them Play!" chant which brought a tear to my eye. I said it was dust when asked what was going on by my son.

The winner of that game would earn a trip to Japan.. at least that's what the Astrodome sponsor Budweiser said.

But... when The Bad News Bears Go To Japan opens up... the kids are going to Japan to play the Japanese champs, but apparently aside from plane tickets, the team is expected to pay for their own hotel and food and other expenses. Budweiser... what happened? Didn't you want to shell out a few promotional bucks for THIS movie?

Luckily, the team hires new team manger Marvin Lazar played by acting legend Tony Curtis. Lazar is a hustler and a promoter and does do a decent enough job of looking after the kids.

Now... I would like to say that this was the movie that made me want to go to Japan as a 13-year-old, but until I saw the movie again a few hours ago, I had forgotten all about this miserable franchise-killing movie.

This was a movie series about kids overcoming adversity... and this third movie doesn't follow the same winning pattern at all. More on that in a few paragraphs...

While I enjoyed seeing the old shinkansen (bullet trains) run... views of Mt. Fuji, scenes of beautiful arched red bridges, women in kimono, pachinko parlors, Tokyo subway trains, ryokan (Japanese-style hotels), the tiny Japanese bathtubs...

I really got a kick out of watching Japanese wrestling legend Antonio Inoki wrestle a bunch of kids and partake in a board and cinder block breaking karate exhibition. I met him in 1993... older, sure... but he still looked like he could kick some major ass. Even my well-toned, muscular one.


Okay... I also loved the time in the movie when the Japanese team with their lovable coach Shimizu (played by Wakayama Tomisaburo - surname first) appeared on a Japanese talent show on TV. He was horrible, but I recall even as a kid being impressed by the politeness of the Japanese audience... until I realized that what I thought was horrible, was actually considered good by the Japanese. What a strange country, I thought.

So... being a curious sort... I'm watching the movie and thing... who is this Japanese guy playing the coach? He looked familiar, but was that because my memory was confusing 35-yer-old recall with actual knowledge?

Well... it turns out that thanks to my rabid comic book collecting, and three-years in Japan and a few movies watched... I did know who Wakayama Tomisaburo was - he is the very famous Japanese movie actor who played the lead as Ittoh Ogami (surname first)... the ronin (masterless samurai) warrior in six Lone Wolf and Cub movies that were based on an amazing Japanese comic book series. I have a brief write-up on the series HERE.



I loved the English-language comic books so much before I even thought about going to Japan. And while in Japan, I bought 12 Japanese-language comic books... literally books, and while I couldn't read the dialogue, I still enjoyed the art...  And then... I got my hands on the movies at a video rental shop in my hometown of Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken... and loved them! They were all in Japanese, but - WOW! this guy was fantastic in his role.

I heartily recommend you reading the comic books and watching the movies... but... I can't say the same for the Bad News Bears Go To Japan.

Along with the fact that half the kids from the first two movies weren't in this one, but the movie seemed like a comedy vehicle for a six-year-old Black kid named Mustapha Rahim, who was the brother of one of the ball players, but obviously not a player himself.

I suppose that in 1978 having cute Black kids in comedy roles was in vogue. Yeesh. (I'm talking 'bout Diff'rent Strokes, Willis!)

And yet... this movie was not about the kids... or even about baseball.. which is why it sucked. This movie was all about the moral fall and rise of the Bears manager (Curtis). Sure... you hire a big name actor and you think you need to use him... but they had Walter Matheau in the first movie and allowed to particpate enough in the movie without it being about him.

Still... far too much of this movie was spent following the exploits of Tony Curtis. I love Tony. Okay, I actually love and lust after his daughter Jamie Lee... but what a dog of a movie.

A kid's baseball movie that showed only bits of three games - neither of which showed a conclusion. Yuck.

How bad was this movie? The only image I could find showing the kids was one of Kelly Leak (Jackie Earle Haley) talking to his Japanese girlfriend, Arika (played by a very cute Ishihara Hatsune - surname first)... and I found it on an automobile website, as the creator was obviously excited about the crappy 1974 Suzuki Fronte car in the background! I kid you not!



 
Stick with the first two Bad News Bears movies... watch the re-make of the first one starring Billy Bob Thornton if you must (my son very much preferred the original - he has good taste! Like his dad!)

So why am I writing about this movie? Let me ask you... since this movie was made in 1978, do you think any other Japan blogger has mentioned it... considering the internet has only really been around for about 20 years. Someone had to do it.

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph

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