＃ハンド全力 (＃Hando Zenryoku)
Japan, 2020, 109’, Japanese
Directed by: Matsui Daigo
Script: Matsui Daigo, Sato Dai
Cast: Kato Seishiro, Daigo Kotaro, Sato Himi, Bando Ryota, Suzuki Fuku, Iwamoto Seimu, Kai Shoma, Tanaka Miku
Date of First Release in Territory: May 22nd, 2020
Premiere status: World Premiere
Japanese movies with a zero-to-hero story arc are many and varied, though ones with high schoolers as heroes are among the most common, beginning with Water Boys. This 2001 Yaguchi Shinobu’s comedy about a boys’ synchronized swimming club launched the boom for films about teens uniting to triumph over their own inexperience or idiocy.
Matsui Daigo’s #HandballStrive would seem to be in this line since it centers on a high school boys’ handball club that loses its first game by a humungous score. But it is set in a present where popularity on social media looms larger to many teenagers than real-world trophies or triumphs. And its team begins life as a social media stunt; this is, it exists only in smartphone photos taken to garner as many “likes” as possible, with no actual sweat being expended or points scored.
But #HandballStrive is not just a black-comic commentary on the lies and delusions of the online world. A handball team of girls from the same high school is practicing hard with the goal of going to the nationals. They are the real analog deal.
But Matsui focuses on the fakers. Some, we see, are dealing with problems more serious than accumulating followers on Twitter. Especially for the kid who starts it all, the phony photos come from a darker place than the perpetual adolescent desire to show off.
He is Masao (Kato Seishiro) who is living in temporary housing with his parents three years after a devastating earthquake struck his hometown of Kumamoto in southern Japan, a real-life disaster that killed nearly 50 people and forced 44,000 more to evacuate in 2016.
One day Masao is messing around with his pal Okamoto (Daigo Kotaro) when a ball rolls his way. He picks it up and tosses it to a girl on the handball team. This inspires him reminisce about happier days with his now-absent older brother Taichi (Kai Shoma) – and dig out a photo of his younger self leaping to throw a ball. On an impulse he posts it on Twitter – and awakes the next morning to find it trending.
Soon Masao and Okamoto are taking one dramatically posed handball photo after another and posting them online with the hashtag #HandballStrive. One thing leads another and soon they and other boys who have joined their little hoax are Internet sensations.
There is just problem: They know next to nothing about handball, but need to play an actual game to keep their small army of followers happy. Naturally, they get slaughtered by a real team – but that is only the beginning of their woes.
Matsui, who co-wrote the script with Sato Dai, gets laughs from the goofball antics of Masao and his #HandballStrive co-conspirators. Unlike most of their on-screen counterparts in Japanese films, they behave like real teenaged boys, meaning their physical age may be sixteen but their mental age is often ten.
And Matsui makes us better understand Masao’s defeatism: After an earthquake that, out of the blue, destroyed his old life, Masao dislikes and distrusts whatever he can’t control, including handball games. Better the staged fakery of his handball team on Twitter.
But Nanao, a star on the girls’ team who good-heartedly supports Masao, begins to trouble his conscience, especially after he accidentally injures her in practice. “You just running away” a straight-talking girl on the handball team tells Masao – from the truth, of course.
But the film is about more than Masao growing up and coming to terms with his three-year-old trauma. It’s also about kids finding out, through sometimes painful experience, the things that really matter. One is self-respect. Another is the joy of slamming a real ball into a real net in a real game. Online poseurs need not apply.
Born in 1985 in Kitakyushu, Matsui Daigo entered Keio University in Tokyo, where he joined a university theater troupe. In 2008 he went independent with his own troupe, Gojiden, for which he served as playwright, director and actor. In 2009 he became the youngest scriptwriter for public broadcaster NHK, working on the series drama Two Speakers. After that he continued to script and direct TV dramas and short films. His first feature as a director, the quirky comedy Afro Tanaka, screened at Udine FEFF 2012. Since then he has made several films with teenaged protagonists, including his latest, #HandballStrive.
2012 – Afro Tanaka
2012 – Daily Lives of High School Boys
2013 – Sweet Poolside
2014 – Wonderful World End
2015 – Watashitachi no haa haa
2016 – Haruko Azumi Is Missing
2017 – Ice Cream and the Sound of Raindrops
2017 – You, Your, Yours
2020 – #HandballStrive