Documentary Filmmaker Ken Eng Shares Why Baseball is More Than a Sport in Japan

Special screening at The Morikami on Nov. 2

Ken Eng’s passion for his subject matter is clear to any viewer. As if he is educating not only the film viewer, but also himself, he turns his camera to his own heritage with wonderment, depth and sensitivity.

In his documentary, “Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball,” Eng follows the players, coaches, family members and fans of the famous Koshien Tournament in Japan through their emotional journeys of competition. Four thousand teams enter, but only 49 are chosen to compete in the championship that grips the nation for two weeks every August.

More than a sport, baseball played at this level and on this grand stage becomes a metaphor for perseverance, faith, determination and character. Baseball becomes a martial art and a discipline, rather than a recreational pastime.

“Kokoyakyu” was nationally broadcast as part of PBS’ prestigious showcase, POV, and at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017, it will have a special screening in the Morikami Theatre, followed by a discussion by Ken Eng. Purchase tickets here.

 

Here’s what he had to say about baseball, Japan and the continued discovery of his heritage:

Q: Was there anything you learned during the making of the documentary that surprised you about the teams’ relationship to baseball?

A: During the process of making “Kokoyakyu,” I was blown away by the way baseball is used as part of the education system. In Japan, there’s a spiritual connection to the game. Since losing is most of the experience in Japan, it’s interesting to see what is being taught through the experience of baseball.

Q: You grew up as an American, so you’re familiar with the American attachment to baseball. How would you compare American passion for the game to Japanese passion for the game?

A: As an American, seeing baseball enjoyed through the lens of Japan is moving. Like in America, the passion for the sport is always at a high level. But seeing how baseball is experienced in Japan, you get a good sense of the Japanese sensibility and where it likes to express its outward passion. Baseball is the rare place where Japanese feel free to be loud and proud!

Q: Are you a baseball enthusiast? If so, did making this film change your view of the game? If so, how?

A: As a baseball enthusiast, making this film helped me realize that baseball is not just an American game anymore. It’s more of a global phenomenon. Countries like China and South Korea also love the sport. Baseball in these places means more to the people because it’s more than just a sport. It’s a way to train the mind and body. For some, it’s a way to open up the world and make it more connected. Baseball in Japan is like a martial art. It’s part of education and teaches valuable life lessons.

Q: Did you have any favorite parts of this film that you’d recommend audiences tune into?

A: One of my favorite scenes is the #18 scene, when the team is being announced, and numbers are handed out. This emotional moment transcends the sport and makes you realize lifelong memories are being made. It also demonstrates the compassion and love that is deep in Japanese society.

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