The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan

Nakimushi_Shottan_no_Kiseki-PosterBased on the true story of Shoji “Crybaby” Segawa, a talented player of shogi, a Japanese variant of chess. After rising quickly in a shore-kai, an organization that supervises professional shogi status, Shoji fails to fulfill the ironclad requirement of reaching the 4th rank by age 26. With the encouragement of his friends, he sets out to achieve the impossible: to be the first amateur to become a shogi professional. (FFM)

WARNING: May contain traces of spoilers! People allergic to the discussion of any plot’s elements before seeing a movie are strongly advised to take the necessary precautions for their safety and should avoid reading further.

This is a great feel-good movie based on the autobiographical book about the incredible career of Shoji Segawa, a Shōgi player. Shōgi  (将棋 / “The game of generals”) is a Japanese strategy board game very similar to chess (as you have a king, surrounded by his gold generals, his silver generals, rook and bishop, knights, lances and finally pawns pieces). We often see this type of “sport competition” story (where sport is often replaced by any possible type of occupation) in manga or anime (the best similar example is Hikaru no Go manga by Yumi Hotta & Takeshi Obata, which is about Go, but there are plenty of manga about shōgi like March Comes in Like a Lion) but it is rare to see this type of story in a live-action movie.

The movie has a strong cast of stars, so it is not surprising that the acting is quite good (although I’ve notice poor performances in the case of some minor characters). The photography is good enough (it’s not always optimum, but I guess it’s due to the attempt to give the picture a look of the 70s or 80s). The storytelling is, however, excellent considering that it is not easy to make such a subject interesting and to keep the attention of the audience while showing two guys sweating over a board game! The upbeat music and some comedic devices are very helpful for that.

Shoji Segawa (nicknamed Shottan) is a shy, introverted boy who has been interested in playing shōgi since elementary school. Encouraged by his school teacher and his father (Jun Kunimura), he improves his skill playing against his neighbour Yuya. They both go to a shōgi dojo where they are tutored by the local master (Issey Ogata). He is known for sometime crying after a game (hence the other nickname of “crybaby”). Learning that you can become a paid professional player of shōgi, Shottan (Ryuhei Matsuda) decide to apply to the shore-kai (the Japan shōgi Association’s apprentice school) but he doesn’t give his all and fails to reach the 4-dan level by age 26. A good part of the movie is dedicated to showing him agonizing over his chance of success (despite being a little overconfident) and over his failures. He finds himself in his late 20s, with no high school diploma, no job and becomes depressed. He eventually finds a salaryman job, but keeps playing shōgi for pleasure. He becomes quite skilled as an amateur player and, eventually in his 30s, gets some fame as the amateur who keep beating professionals (a miracle record of 17 wins and 5 losses!). He then starts fighting for the JSA to give him a second chance at becoming professional…

Strangely, nowhere in the movie they talk about the rules or strategy of the shōgi game. I guess, if the movie is solely aimed at a domestic Japanese audience, they assume that everyone know them. Anyway, the knowledge of the game is totally irrelevant to the story. The movie is more about fighting for your dream, learning the discipline (not being too distracted) and to play for the right reasons (not to win but just for the pleasure of it). It is interesting to note that the director, Toshiaki Toyoda, attempted himself to become a professional player when he was younger.

All in all, The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan is an upbeat biopic that provide a very good entertainment. Well worth watching.

The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan (泣き虫しょったんの奇跡 / Nakimushi Shottan no Kiseki): Japan, 2018, 127 mins; Dir./Scr.: Toshiaki Toyoda (based on the autobiographical novel of Shoji Segawa); Phot.: Norimichi Kasamatsu, Kôji Naoi; Ed.: Masaki Murakami; Prod.: Ryo Otaki, Kyôichi Mori; Cast: Ryûhei Matsuda (Shoji), Yôjirô Noda (Yuya), Shota Sometani, Kento Nagayama, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Ryusuke Komakine, Hirofumi Arai, Takako Matsu, Issey Ogata, Kaoru Kobayashi, Jun Miho, Jun Kunimura.

Screened at the Cineplex Quartier Latin 13 (Thu. 8/30 at 21:30) as part of the “Focus on World Cinema” program of the 42nd Montreal World Film Festival. There was a little more than half-a-dozen people in the theatre. stars-3-5

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