Alex Shear, Writer/Producer
June 2006: We are incredibly thrilled to be able to bring this story to America, and we couldn't have done it without POV and the support of all of our donors and friends.
It was 2001 when we first came up with the idea for this film, so it's been a long journey. We shot the film over ten weeks in the summer of 2004, and post-production took nearly a year. Looking back, we couldn't be happier with how it turned out. It was always a dream project for us, and we feel very lucky that people are going to be able to experience it.
If you want to know what the experience was like for us, it was a five-year roller coaster ride, during which the film was the driving force in our lives. Everything else took a back seat. It's a scary feeling pouring all your time and effort into something that won't make any money and may or may not ever come to fruition. I'm sure some documentary filmmakers are independently wealthy, but for us, it was extremely difficult to make ends meet while also keeping the film going. With all the competition out there, we feel truly lucky to be one of the few independent films with the chance to be seen by a wide audience.
In the end, we made lots of lifelong friends from all over the world, and learned things that changed our lives. Hopefully we are all a lot stronger and a bit wiser than we were back in 2001.
Personally, I have more film ideas in development, but I was just accepted to business school at Babson College and will be pursuing an MBA in entrepreneurship.
July 2008: In the two years since Kokoyakyu originally aired on POV, we have visited colleges, high schools, Japan Societies, and other organizations all over America talking about the film. American baseball coaches have used it to inspire their teams, and college professors have used it to teach Japanese culture. It is great to hear from so many students and teachers who love the film and learned something from it. People of all ages, whether they've been to Japan or not, seem to really identify with the characters and the situations in the film. It still makes a lot of people cry, which tells us we must have done something right.
Over the last two years, Japanese baseball has increasingly influenced the American baseball world as well. Daisuke Matsuzaka, the ultimate Koshien hero, left Japan and joined our Boston Red Sox, helping them win (another) championship in 2007. When Daisuke came to the Red Sox, one of the first gifts he received from the owners of the team was a copy of Kokoyakyu.
Many more Japanese players have joined the Major Leagues and made an impact, including Hideki Okajima, who was an All-Star reliever (and fan favorite) for the Red Sox championship team in 2007. Okajima has a famous pitch -- the Okie-Dokie -- and his own special theme song -- Okajima, whoot, whoot! -- that plays whenever he takes the mound. Today there is even a Major League manager, Trey Hillman of the Kansas City Royals, who proved himself first as a Kantoku in Japan (yes, his first move with the Royals was to extend the team's practices). The two baseball worlds are colliding, and learning from each other.
Takayo Nagasawa, Producer
July 2006: I went back to Osaka in 2006 and I was able to screen the film for Masa-sensei and some of the kids at Tennoji. The entire team was there, as well as six graduates who were juniors on the team when we shot the film in 2004. They were all there to see the film for the first time.
At the end, I saw Masa-sensei leave the room. I think he didn't want anyone to see him in tears. There was huge applause, and then, Captain Matsumoto-kun (Tennoji's cheer-squad captain in the film) stood up and told us how much he was moved. A lot of kids were crying. Matsumoto-kun said he wanted everyone at school to watch it.
After the film, all the kids wrote down some feedback. Here are some examples:
"Once the movie started, I was brought back to two summers ago. Even though I already knew what happened, it was very touching and moving."
"I never knew you captured us at so many different moments."
"I looked so cool playing baseball! I never knew!"
"This DVD will remain forever, even after my death. Thank you so much for capturing my youth."
After the film, they all went back to practice on the field. Chiben's practice inspired them so much that they started hitting like crazy. Masa-sensei told me that they were usually very cautious swinging the bat, but the fear was gone. Masa-sensei said it he thought it was because of our film.
I think we really inspired them in a great way. I was nervous looking at everyone's faces while they were watching the film, but I was really glad we did it.
Kenneth Eng, Director
July 2008: It's been 2 years since the last time I saw Masa-sensei and the Tennoji Baseball team. It was right after Tennoji's 1st round victory during the 2006 regional tournament. What I'll never forget is the speech the captain (Matsumoto-kun) gave before we said our final goodbyes. He talked about the possibility of it being the last time we would ever see each other. Ughhh... heart-wrenching. A Tennoji Baseball team salute followed.
I'll also never forget seeing the faces of the kids that appeared in the film. All of the shaved heads were now Beatle-like mullets highlighted with blonde streaks. Even the manager-girls were extremely stylish. They seemed transformed and far removed from the days of high-school baseball.
Alex, Takayo, and I also screened Kokoyakyu for the Tennoji Baseball Team. After the screening, one of the former students said "he was moved because the film would still be there even after his death." He saw it as a tribute to his life.
These are some of the things that I'll never forget for as long as I live. These are the kinds of things that transcend documentary filmmaking. Looking back at my experience making Kokoyakyu, it has taught me that making a documentary film is more than just being in the right place at the right time, stirring up sensitive issues, etc... It has taught me that the process is just as important as the result. The bringing together of people that would normally never get the chance to do so. The simplicity of making lifelong friends through the process. We still keep in contact with Masa-sensei and have an open invitation to Osaka for the rest of our lives and this I am forever thankful.
Tennoji High School:
The freshmen in the film are now seniors and are preparing for their last summer tournament. Matsumoto, who was in charge of the cheer squad, is now team captain. The new team has been playing a lot of practice games and they are doing very well.
He is still teaching in Tennoji and playing baseball with the kids there. Masa-sensei feels that the new team is going to make it very far.
Tennoji's captain in the film, Takahiro Maeda (#1), told us in 2004 that his dream was to attend Japan's Military Academy, Boei (Self-Defense Force) University. He told us that the Self-Defense Force appealed to him because he likes being part of a team, and he always liked the idea of making sacrifices to help others. Well, his dream actually came true — he was accepted to the prestigious university and just moved from Osaka to Tokyo to start school.
Haruki (#18) was accepted at Osaka Furitsu University in Osaka.
Misaki (Tennoji's manager) is going to school to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse. She started in April.
Chiben High School:
In 2005, the summer after the film was shot, Chiben won the Wakayama Tournament and made it to Koshien, led by the two young players featured in the film, Hayata Maeda and Ryohei Hashimoto. However, they lost their first Koshien game and were eliminated. Maeda graduated, but Hashimoto still has the chance to make it as a senior this summer.
He is still coaching at Chiben. He brought the team to Koshien in summer 2005, but they lost their first game and were eliminated. They were also invited to the spring 2006 (invitational) Koshien tournament.
He is now a senior and wears number 5. National media reports say that he looked great at the spring invitational tournament. Many people feel that Hashimoto is not just Chiben's best player, but in fact one of the top players in the country. He is very close to achieving his dream of going professional next year.