Note: this is a review of the Japanese film about the sport of diving, not the lame US documentary by the same name about dumpster diving.
Height: 10 meters! Speed: 60 kph?! The summer they risked it all on a mere 1.8 seconds has begun!
When I was last in Japan in the summer of 2008, this film had just been released and there were posters for it everywhere. I wanted to go see it in a theater while I was there, but alas, it never happened.
Then I had the DVD in my Amazon.co.jp wishlist forever, but when I finally got around to trying to order it, I found they wouldn’t ship it outside of Japan. But the third time’s the charm, and I ordered a copy off eBay and finally watched it–what a great film!
To tell the truth, even though I study the Japanese language and am a huge anime fan, I find that I don’t really watch a lot of live action Japanese films. The few that I have seen have been a mixed bag of pretty darn good and rather hokey. But this one was surprisingly good. The story was really engaging, the performances of the actors highly believable and the cinematography top-notch. The film is based on the novels by Naoki Prize-winning author Mori Eto (which I have also been reading) which tell a combination coming-of-age/summer/sports story that I thought rang very true to life. I have to admit to enjoying the movie a lot because it’s much easier than reading the novel–attempting a novel of this level with my still fairly rudimentary Japanese language skills is really, really hard!
Our main protagonist, Sakai Tomoki (played by Hayashi Kento–the one in the middle) is now a novice diver–the quintessential “Diamond in the Rough” in the sport. As an elementary schoolboy he happened to see some boys diving off a 10-meter platform while riding home on his bicycle, and since then has been drawn to the sport symbolized by the “concrete dragon” of the 10-meter tower.
Turns out one of the boys he met back then is our second main character, Fujitani Yoichi (played by Ikematsu Sosuke, the one on the left in the yellow) who is the diving club’s number one athlete–not to mention son of the head coach. Upon his shoulders rest the hopes and dreams of not only his father, but the entire diving club as well. Our final main character, Okitsu Shibuki (Mizobata Junpei–you guessed it–the one on the right) arrives a bit later and completes the trio as the outsider/rival who lives and dives [sic] by his own rules. Between the three, you sort of get all the possible motivations and personality types you might find in this or any other sport.
The story essentially follows these three as they work and train for the Olympic Diving Team tryouts–something made all the more important since the sponsors of the Mizuki Diving Club are going to shut it down unless someone from the club can become a world-class athlete and qualify for the Olympics. Crucial to the story, though, is the arrival of a new female assistant coach Asaki Kayoko (Seto Asaka) who provides all the necessary motivation and training and really serves as the catalyst for transforming all three boys. A former world-class diver herself, she had to give up the sport before completely fulfilling her own dreams due to injuries–she now lives her dream vicariously through her trainees.
What’s really great, though, is the individual stories and motivations of the three divers. Yoichi feels the pressure of the world on his shoulders, but more importantly the fact that his father treats him much more like a trainee than as his own son. At the same time, he feels his father is holding him back by not training him in more difficult dives. His decision later in the film provides one of the key turning points in the story.
For Shibuki’s part, as the rebellious outsider he thinks he’s got something to prove and wants to do it his own way. In reality, he is trying to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather–a world class diver in the 1930s who was unable to fulfill his own Olympic dreams due to the Second World War. Shibuki is motivated, then, almost by a sense of revenge–wanting to make certain that he can fulfill his Jii-san’s dream and show the world the Okitsu family’s ability.
Finally, the most endearing character (to me, anyway) is Tomoki. In some ways he’s just the archetype kid that has to work hard because he doesn’t have the “diving pedigree” of his other two rivals. But what was so great about the portrayal was seeing him lose many of the things he loves–his friends, his girlfriend (to his younger brother, no less) and even his ability to feed his sweet tooth–and yet keeps pushing to excel. Sure he’s the classic undiscovered prodigy, but his character and the way he was played rang true throughout–the normal, everyday, average boy who finally finds his place in the world and something at which he can truly excel. It was as if Hayashi Kento was made to play this part, too–he was absolutely adorable (and while I really hate to use that word, it totally fits).
The cinematography was fantastic too–beautiful sunny summer days, very typical cityscapes and homes and even some spectacular natural scenery (like the cliffs where Shibuki used to dive and the diving pool in the final competition). Even more awesome was the diving. I understand that the three actors trained for months before the filming and were even able to actually jump from the 10 meter tower, but in reality all the dives were performed by real divers–and they were truly awesome. The editing and cuts were so good that you had no trouble believing that the actors/characters were the ones doing the work.
And yes, I suppose there’s one last thing the film had going for it too: the fact that the main characters and most of the supporting cast spent half the film wearing nothing but their diving suits. When I see that many sets of perfect six-pack abs I have to admit that my jealousy meter really gets cranked up–now I just have to make sure I turn that into productive motivation for getting my own self in shape! Oh, how I wish I could be a teenager again…
If you are a fan of the beauty and grace of the sport of diving and want to see a well-done film with true-to-life portrayals of great characters, I’d recommend this film. You can probably only find it on Asian-region DVDs or possibly some kind of illegal download site (mine is a Region 3 DVD from Hong Kong that includes English subtitles).