Who knew that being a great Ping-Pong player requires "running till you puke blood and training till you piss blood?" This is just one of the handy tips offered in this manga-based 2002 tale of obsessive Japanese teen table-tennis players. The plot revolves around the relationship between best friends Smile and Peco, the former a brilliant player whose weakness is his timidity, and the latter an impetuous, brash player who must learn self-control. The film is defined visually by the Shaolin Soccer–esque Ping-Pong sequences, in which players grimace in super-slo-mo and the camera follows the ball with impossibly close close-ups, lending comical seriousness and intensity to the high-school tournaments. To a certain extent, however, the over-the-top importance placed on such a trivial sport is the film's core message—in addition to talent and hard work, greatness demands a love of the game. Adding to this dynamic is Shido Nakamura (the fanatical Lieutenant Ito in Letters From Iwo Jima) as the two boys' fearsome rival, who anchors a deep supporting cast full of overly intense and/or talent-deficient competitors. Refreshingly, the film refrains from vilifying any of them.
Runs at Grand Illusion, Fri., May 25–Thurs., May 31. Not rated. 114 minutes.