Ping Pong

By Ashish Ghadiali

Imagine a film shot in the style of the young adventures of Bruce Lee, with table-tennis bats, in Heartbreak High, in a Manga comic, in The Matrix, all happening in front of your eyes to the tunes of a funky electro-house soundtrack. Frothing with excitement? Then make sure you make time to check out the innovative debut from Japanese director Sori. Adapted from a five-volume Manga comic by Taiyo Matsumoto, the film comes to the UK on the back of a hit run in Japan. It's called Ping Pong. Remember the name...

It tells the story of two kids who bond early over table-tennis and become star players for their school, Katase High. They're kind of a yin and yang of competitive sport – the relentlessly arrogant Peco and the reserved but too generous smile. Both players encounter crises that spring from their distinct personalities. While smile has all the moves, he finds himself lacking the killer-instinct to take his opponents down, while on the other side, Peco's aggressive tactics make him easy prey when he's encountered by the awesome newcomer, China. Devastated by defeat, Peco drops out, grows long hair, smokes a lot of fags, falls in a river, then decides he wants to get good again. The film comes to an astounding finale as the separated friends are reunited as opponents in the final of the national championship tournament.

While the characters and plot have the endearing warmth of an American teen-flick, the action's often funny where teen-flicks seldom are. The real treat of this film, however, is the effect of Sori's astounding visual invention and his sublime use of contemporary music. Nowhere does this hit harder than in the ping-pong sequences themselves, where tracking shots, slow-motion and stills, beautifully framed close-ups and madcap editing styles all come together to make of the scenes a seemingly endless and fascinating run of variations on a theme. Time can move faster than your eyes or it can be drawn out by a frenetic rush of beats. It's totally mesmerising, and sometimes I got so spaced out in it that I had the feeling I was chilling in a club watching some of the best visuals I'd seen out in a while.

There was a little voice in my head saying that some people might find these long moments of musical visual extravaganza a little bit self-indulgent – even a little bit boring. But after thinking about that, I decided that I wouldn't want such people to be my friends. Ping Pong can be intense. It can be tender. It's amazing to see a film at once so cool, and yet in no way dependent on any postmodern cynical crutch. Last but not least, it is the only film I've ever seen to suggest that if you're ever lagging with a dodgy knee in the semi-final of a crucial tournament, the best way through is to listen to the crazy house sounds emanating from it, and you'll fly through with total ease. Pavel Nedved take note...
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