Yamazaki speaks with the JapanBall audience. Yamazaki discussed her work with the Koshien tournament, as well as different ongoing trends.
Yamazaki speaks with the JapanBall audience. Yamazaki discussed her work with the Koshien tournament, as well as different ongoing trends. Photo Credit: Shane Barclay

Ema Ryan Yamazaki, a renowned filmmaker from Kobe, Japan, joined the Dec. 3 episode of “Chatter Up!” to discuss her film “Koshien: Japan’s Field of Dreams,” an intimate look at the intense season high school baseball teams go through in order to reach the mecca of the sport. In both the film and this discussion, Yamazaki spoke on her observations of the tradition-rich world of Japanese high school baseball, what might be changing as time goes on, and what this may mean for Japan as a whole. For a recap of this discussion, check out our Japanese Baseball Blog, or watch the discussion in real time on our YouTube channel!

Shane:  

Ema, I’m going to put you on the spotlight here. Thank you for joining us, good to have you on here! It’s been a long time coming.

Ema:  

Thank you! Nice to meet everyone.

Shane:

Thanks for spending your Friday morning with us. I’m going to give a quick intro here, for those of you who maybe don’t know Ema’s story. Ema’s from Kobe, in Japan, born to a Japanese mother and a British father; half-Asian like me. She lived in Japan until moving to New York to attend NYU’s renowned Tisch School to study documentary filmmaking. From that, she got to work on a bunch of cool documentaries for major networks like CNN, Al Jazeera, HBO, NHK, etcetera, and then completed her first full feature length film, called “Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curious George’s Creators.” That was in 2017 and received worldwide acclaim, won the Audience Award at the Nantucket Film Festival. Following that film’s success, she moved back to Japan to be able to tell her stories from a unique perspective, on the ground in Japan. She completed projects on Ichiro [Suzuki], which hopefully a lot of you’ve been able to see, Olympic sports in Japan, and the Japanese artistic director at the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre. But of course, most importantly, she has completed the film that we’re here to discuss: “Koshien, Japan’s Field of Dreams,” which she started in 2018, premiered in New York City in 2019, and then ESPN picked it up; a lot of you caught it earlier this year. Recently, a few weeks ago in North America, it’s now available to everyone, and has gotten a great reception from our community and the greater film community, baseball fans and non-fans alike. So Ema, congratulations on the success of the film, and thank you again for spending the time with us.

Ema:  

Thank you! I’m excited to chat.

Shane:  

So I just want to start it off going back to growing up in Japan. What was your baseball background? And what was your first experience with the Koshien tournament?

Ema:  

So I actually grew up 15 minutes away from the Koshien Stadium in the same city, Nishinomiya. Not that I went; I like to say that it was like some association by distance. It’s not like I was going, but it was a very familiar thing, for Hanshin Tiger games, and also every spring and summer, there would just be dominant high school baseball communities coming. It was a field of dreams for so many, but for me, it was the thing that was not in my immediate neighborhood, but very close to where I lived. I would say my baseball energy was really not high school baseball, it was Ichiro. When I was 11 years old, I read a book about him in school; you could pick a book to read for the holidays, and I picked that book. Until then, I had no idea who he was, no interest in baseball or sports, and that book changed my life. It was just a book about his life; at the time, he was about to go to the majors, and it was a book that showed that since he was three years old, he practiced baseball every day, with the hope of becoming the best. That inspired me to realize I have to find something I love, something that will become my baseball, and then just dedicate myself to it like he did. So I spent my middle school years really actively looking for that thing, which I picked to be filmmaking. At the time, it was very easy to work hard, because my hero Ichiro was being so successful in the US, and there was this model that was succeeding because of all his hard work. I just thought, “Okay, so I will work hard too, and one day go to the US just like he did, study and try to be a good filmmaker.” So really, my life is thanks to him. I always also knew that baseball can be used not just to enjoy the game itself, but to kind of have parallels to bigger themes, like how to live life. I think that’s why this film, because this Koshien film, even though it’s about baseball, I picked the topic because I knew I could kind of have a bigger theme, I could say more about society and life. 

So Ichiro, I went to the US many times. My family’s from England, I’ve never had a relationship in the US, but I would go to Seattle, and my parents kind of got bored of Seattle after a few trips. So they would kind of tour with the Mariners, so Florida and California in 2003, ‘04, ‘05 that area. And when I went to New York, when Ichiro came to the Yankees, I watched almost every home game, which was intense for two and a half years. That was kind of my way into baseball. I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of any team really, [but] he’s just kind of my life.

Shane:  

Wow. So you’ve mentioned this, but I want to go back to it. Do you think you would not have gone to NYU or on to the US if Ichiro hadn’t gone? Was that your inspiration for wanting to do that?

Ema:  

I think looking back, I always knew I wanted to study in a place where I felt like whatever industry I was going into was the best. That came from the fact that, you know, Ichiro was the best in Japan, yet wanted to challenge himself, where he thought that baseball was the best in the US. I wouldn’t say it was the definitive reason, and I looked at many different schools in many different countries. But ultimately, I just felt like for filmmaking, the US is the best. And so going there was a simple thing. Also, I’d never been to the US before moving there, except to see Ichiro play, so I feel like it just helped me familiarize with the country.

Shane:  

What was your reaction when the Yankees picked him up?

Ema:  

I remember I was in a meeting or something. When I came out of the meeting, I looked at my phone and had like 40 friends congratulating me; I didn’t know what it was about, but everybody associated me with him. I just couldn’t believe it, and especially that half season from July onwards, where we all thought he was gonna move very quickly, I was spending so much time at the stadium. When I was walking in New York, I would assume I could always bump into him, so I was always on [my] best behavior. I still try to be just a model fan, always act in a way that if Ichiro was to see me, I would make him proud; that’s always a motivation. So there was a lot of that, especially during those years. I never bumped into him or anything, I’ve never met him to this day, except to get an autograph. But yeah, it was a very exciting two and a half years.

Shane:  

Cool. So moving on to the Koshien part: at what point did you realize that, “This is the project I want to do a full length film on it?”

Ema:  

So as you kindly introduced in your introduction, I spent nine full years in New York. It was after I finished my first film about the authors of Curious George, a very different animated documentary from Koshien, that I started to really realize that I wanted to start coming back to Japan; not fully live here, but I thought maybe what I could do uniquely, or more than others, was to tell stories about Japan for the outside world. I felt that was lacking, you hear a lot about sushi and ramen, and anime and Hello Kitty, and that’s kind of it; I just felt like there’s more to where I grew up. I would also say, when I was growing up here, I didn’t necessarily like Japan. I just felt I had all these complexities: not being fully Japanese, I just didn’t feel fully comfortable. But after I left, and those years in New York really made me realize how wonderful some of Japanese things are: things like trains being on time, and people queuing up for things, and people being considerate; just things I took for granted that was not the case in New York. That made me sad to realize all the other things about Japanese society that actually are quite wonderful. Also its issues, of course, but I wanted to find something that could capture all of that, in a way that’s also dramatic and with great characters. So I was looking, I came back to actively look for that arena. When I stumbled upon the 99th Koshien, in the summer of 2017, it was the first time I was in Japan in the summer of almost a decade, and as you all must know, it’s like you can’t avoid it if you’re in Japan. It was also shocking that as an adult, I would go to these meetings, and that other people would not turn the TV off. It was like, “No, we’re gonna have the game on while we have this very serious meeting.” So it just made me remember how it encapsulates the summer, and I thought “Oh, it’s the 100th tournament, maybe that’s a great opportunity to look back on where Japan has come from this,” especially since the war and also where it might be headed. There’s always a lot of criticism about high school baseball, and I was hearing that as well. So I just thought it was a good topic to dive into.

Shane:  

So how did you originally meet Mizutani kantoku, and what was your pitch to him to get him to agree to follow his team around for so long?

Ema:  

Yeah, so there’s almost 4000 schools, so where do I pick? What should I do? That was the big question. I wanted to make sure that our film connected to Japanese Major Leaguers somehow, because I thought that would be a good way to get the US base audience to be interested. Also, I was interested in the Yokohama area, because that’s where baseball came in Japan, and although there’s not that much history in the final film, there was a time when I was very interested in doing a lot more about how baseball became yakyu, so that was kind of our rubric. Actually, in our film there’s that postwar kamikaze coach [Fumiya] Tsuta, who was a coach in the 70s and 80s that was a coach at Ikeda High School. So his grandson is a filmmaker, kind of in my generation, and my husband and producer Eric [Nyari] knew him from before. So we kind of were talking to a lot of people about getting advice, and he was the one that knew Mizutani, because he was from his hometown, from Fukushima. So we, being the grandson of this very famous legendary coach, within two days, we had a dinner setup with Mizutani, and he is so charismatic. Then once I went to his school, it’s just like the intensity that you feel at Hayato. You waltz in there on a regular Wednesday afternoon, arrive at the school grounds and you can’t waltz anymore. It’s so intense. It’s almost like a warzone, and I was captivated by this atmosphere. Then I found out that he coached his disciple Sasaki, who was Ohtani’s coach, and Mizutani’s son was going to go there, I thought, “Wow, this could be a great story.” He didn’t really take that much convincing. You know, I think he likes having a good media, it means good things for the baseball program. He always told me later that he said yes [while] assuming I would never be able to do this film, because it was quite tough for the High School Baseball Union and different parties to agree to let us do it. I don’t think he also realized I would be there every day for many months, so later he always tells me he just said “yes” without really thinking about it. But to his credit, he stuck with it. He never said “Go away now,” and that’s why we were able to make that film. Sasaki, the other coach, was much harder to convince. You know, he has everything he needs without extra media, all the best kids from Iwata prefecture. He only takes kids from the local prefecture, so he doesn’t need to do anything to attract those kids. At first, he was like, “Why do I need to share things I’ve learned about how to coach my baseball team with anyone?” Which is a valid point, and as a filmmaker, you always have to find a reason for the other person to want to participate. Ultimately, I said, “You might not need this, but maybe it would be nice for you to be documented within history. And also, I think what you’re doing here will be such a hint for every other educator in Japan, and maybe in the rest of the world. It’s not just about baseball. Please contribute to the future of Japanese society,” is ultimately how I convinced him, and it took some time and on a few trips, where we really couldn’t film anything. And then basically, at one point, he let his guard down. 

Shane:  

Great argument! It’s hard to say no to that. So with the coaches, did they ever get the feeling that singling out players and focusing on individual stories, did they ever feel that it was conflicting with a harmonious wholeness of the team?

Ema:  

The coaches never told me like, “Make sure you’re balanced,” but definitely, just to have a successful atmosphere with the whole team, I had to make sure we did a lot of things. I mean, first of all, it’s even[ly] cast, like if it was a casting process. I knew I wanted to film the seniors mainly, but there were 49 seniors in Hayato that year. So in the spring, I think I did full interviews with over 30 of them, because I would get to know them, and some of them are not into it at all, which is fine. Then there were, and some kids could speak very well, even if the cameras weren’t rolling, and other kids couldn’t, so I would give each person a few tries. And you know, no matter how wonderful of a kid in the film, you just have to be able to express yourself, so kind of whittling things down. But even until the day of the team announcement, when Yumo was not picked, even at that point, I would say we had like six or four characters we could have fully put in a film, so we were filming a lot of kids. And after that, what I realized is basically Captain, Yumo, the freshman mentor who has a role, those were really the three. We kept filming with other kids knowing that they weren’t really going to be- maybe if we one day made like a longer series or something, it would be useful- but really, but just to kind of lowering the pressure for the kids, we were filming and just making everyone feel they’re still involved, because you never know until the end if someone hit the hit that would get them to Koshien and they would be in, right? And also just talking, even if I wasn’t filming, to make sure everybody felt comfortable with us there. We had to become like air, I kept saying; we could never be air with our huge crew and huge six-foot cameraman who is American in this very Japanese environment, but our goal was to become part of the chairs, the tables. And then it was also that when, when they lost, or when they didn’t make the team they wouldn’t be embarrassed that we were there, it was normal that they would be okay to just be how they were going to be, that was our goal. So from the spring, we just filmed endless things that you will never see because it was not that interesting, but all for those kind of important moments.

Shane:  

I commend you for that. You did an amazing job, but hearing you talking about it now, it makes you realize there’s so much more that has to be done; I’m sure it’s just a tiny portion of what you’ve captured is what we saw, but there’s so much strategy there, which is nice work.

Ema:  

Yeah, we filmed 300 hours, and it’s a 94, 95 minute film. We also filmed with two other schools that were not in the film at all, because we just didn’t know who would make it to Koshien, so could have a film. I think you might know this since you all love baseball, you might know about this film that was made maybe 15 years ago called Kokoyakyu, that was on PBS, which I think is maybe the other high school baseball film. It’s good, but neither the teams make it to Koshien at all, and I think that was a huge miscalculation, because this one team constantly makes it and it’s just not the same. I just didn’t want to do that, we had to make sure one of our teams made it to Koshien. I felt like after that, they didn’t have to win Koshien or anything but just that significance. Ultimately it worked out, but top of the ninth inning for Hanamaki when they were losing in that final of regionals, I was like…  first of all, we never expected Hayato to lose in the first round, so there was a lot of freak outs for me too. But it ultimately worked out, we made the story based on the results.

Shane:  

I’m relieved for you. I wasn’t even going through it. I’m just feeling relieved that they made it. I’ve got one more question before we do some audience ones. So when I was watching the film with my wife, Jessie, she was appalled at how Mizutani treated his players and, and how he prioritized his job over his family, etc. Can you explain where on the spectrum does he fall, as far as how strict and dedicated to his job he is?

Ema:  

I would honestly say he’s above average in his strictness, but definitely not the most extreme or strict coaches that even I witnessed in the one year where I visited other teams. I also saw a lot of other coaches through practice games that Hayato went to. Maybe there’s an impression that I picked like the strictest coach but there were coaches that were even scarier. I remember one player from a different team that we just visited to film a practice game saying the rule of that team was like, from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep, you have to run at full speed. So if you get up, and you need to go to the bathroom at like 5am, or whatever, you have to just get up and run to the bathroom. And he was like, “Yeah, so Hayato looks like- I know they have to be proper, but it seems like an easy kind of a thing.” I was very surprised. I think yeah, we didn’t pick like an outsider for the baseball coach; his dedication, I think, is pretty normal, but maybe particular because I don’t know how many coaches tried to plan their child-making, or not having a son named their daughter to win, that’s quite extreme. But Mizutani loves these life stories, and he believes in kind of destinies, and I think that’s what makes him special and kind of a good character, a very charismatic coach. I think it is very common for high school baseball coaches to be that way and also, honestly and so recently in Japanese society, the man or the husband, the father, it’s considered a good thing to dedicate yourself to your job at the expense of your family, but that’s been the way at least until 10, 15 years ago, and that’s changing now. But that’s what I wanted to show too; if you tried to understand why Japan is the way it is, this is not an exception, and if you’ve ever done business with a Japanese businessman, and you wonder why he works so hard, and why he’s working on Sundays, because it’s been that way. People can take judgments based off of that, have their opinions, but I was also trying to share some insight, some hints: “if you’ve ever wondered why Japan is this way, perhaps these are some of the reasons,” [that] kind of approach. Yeah.

Shane:  

Thank you for explaining that!

Ted:

I’ve got three questions. Number one, what was the most difficult part of making the documentary? And the second question is, what’s going to be your next project? And the third question is, any difficulties about being a woman doing this documentary?

Ema:  

Oh, thank you! Great questions. I would say that there was really nothing easy about the project, I would split the three parts that were very difficult: one was to get the permission. So you may or may not know that the High School Baseball Union runs high school baseball, and there’s a reason that this kind of film has not been really made before. They’ve been very protective- there’s a lot of media by high school baseball within Japan- but to the outside world. When we first went to the high school baseball union, my husband and I, as an American producer and me, an independent company, they were just like, “Who are you? We don’t understand how you want to film, and you don’t have an outlet yet.” So that’s why we got NHK involved, it’s actually a co-production with NHK, so that we could kind of fit into the system, but always telling them “it’s for the outside world, we want to do this internationally.” But it took a lot of convincing. Even after the film was done, we did something actually quite stupid- you should never do this as a filmmaker- but we didn’t know how widely we could release this film until it was done, but there was no other option. And we believe that once we made the film, they would understand the benefits of letting us release it widely, as we’ve ultimately been able to, but it was a constant process, and it was not guaranteed. So we took a big risk. So that, and then also the filming; I think 100 days of going between four schools in very hot heat, trying to figure out where to be on which day. Mainly Hayato, but you know, if I left Hayato I would be so scared we would miss something, and just not knowing the outcome, always making sure we had enough options, [so] at the end of the day, I could make a film. This was my anxiety throughout. And then sitting with 300 hours of footage, and I edited the film too, so on and off for a year, because I had to make other versions for NHK, and I had to do some other jobs as well. But for a year, I sat with this footage trying to figure out the best story to tell, and I actually didn’t know Mizutani would be my main character until the editing, that’s how many options I had. I didn’t know if I was making a film about a high school kid, or how I was going to lay it out, that was really all in the editing. So that was a very lonely time; it’s just part of the process, but it’s not something I’ve really done before either. I edited other people’s films, and then I made this animated documentary as my first feature, so Koshien was a lot of firsts for me too. So there was nothing easy about it, I would say. And then my next project, COVID, as with everyone’s life, kind of derailed things this year, but actually thanks to Koshien, I got a lot of sports offers; there’s some potential projects surrounding the Olympics that I might get involved in, but ultimately, what I would really love to do next, if COVID allows us to, next film in a Japanese elementary school. I went to elementary school, so I really believe between the age of six and 12 that people become Japanese, like a six year old is kind of like an American six year old, by the time you’re 12 you’re very Japanese, and I experienced that. I’m very American now, but as a 12 year old, I was very Japanese and I think for better or worse, elementary school really molds you for Japanese society. So with similar themes to the Koshien film, I now want to get into an elementary school and observe how they operate. 17 year old boys were tough, but I’m going to now try to do six year olds and 12 year olds, like a first and sixth grader compared and film them mainly for a year. So we’ll see how that goes. Your third question about being a woman, I think it’s really hard for me to know what things were easy or hard because of my gender, but I would definitely acknowledge that I was always surrounded by…  I mean, every high school baseball union person, every high school baseball coach, obviously every high school baseball player, are all men and boys. And so I think, in a way, especially with the boys, I had to really figure out what kind of relationship I should have with them; I was a woman 10 years older than them at the time. And I was not their friend, I wasn’t their teacher. But I wanted to build a relationship where they felt comfortable, whatever they wanted me to be. It was also different for different boys. I can’t say for sure, but there must have been an effect that I had that I was not like a seventy year old man, it’s nice to just lean into that. Maybe sometimes that made it harder for the boys, but I just had to figure out things that work. There were times when I would have a meeting or walk into a room and be the only woman. And also, because my producer was also my husband and when he was there, that was good, but I noticed sometimes they would want to talk to him more than me and things like this, which is like I think there’s pros and cons and at this point, like other parts of my identity, I just figured out how it works. I think definitely though, maybe I could make this film because of who I was, versus someone else, whether that was my gender, my age, a combination of me being part foreign, but also part Japanese. Different things and all of it to make this film as successful as it could.

Sanjay:

I’m a Canadian Academy alum, old man, very proud of you as a senpai, not that I had anything to do with this. I was curious: did you have any interaction with the team after the movie aired? Have you had a chance to screen it with them or anything? What was their reaction?

Ema:  

Yeah, so in Japan, we released this film in August this summer. So it was in theaters, and also this came about due to COVID. It was never part of the plan, just like with ESPN, it was this total surprise. We were never planning to release this international version; versions that aired on NHK that everyone had seen already, but this full version, because their Koshien was cancelled, they basically said “Okay, you can release this film this summer,” which is very sudden, but wonderful. It’s still in a few theaters regionally, but in Tokyo it went for eight weeks and in Yokohama too, six or seven weeks. So yes, we got to meet a lot. We kept in touch with Mizutani and the coach, but the kids are now all in their 20s, it’s been two years, so all those characters have just come of age and a lot of them we saw in the theater. I just can’t even imagine, if it was me watching myself in this amazing theater, kind of like playing back the most intense years of their life this far, and also, even Yumo was telling me how like, “Oh, finally, I understand a little bit what Coach was trying to tell me two years ago.” I’m sure it also takes time to process, but it’s a special thing for it to be played back on a big screen, surrounded by audiences that don’t know you’re there. Whenever I did a talk and I knew one of the boys was in the audience, I would acknowledge them and the audience went wild. They just felt like they were like superstars, and felt like they really knew them. Captain and Yumo are still playing baseball in university, and Captain, as expected, is doing quite well, and he hopes to try to go pro; I think that’s like his dream. So after college, Yumo, not at that level, but he’s actually continued and they’re all turning into wonderful young men, I would say. Some of the others that aren’t in the film, too, it was interesting to see, but after they graduated, some of the kids started to let loose, as you might imagine, just dyed hair and kind of wild clothing, but now two years later, a lot of them have kind of swung back a little bit too, at least the ones that came to the theater. So it was really nice to see them, just understanding that thanks to them, we can do this. I know like, for better or worse these kids didn’t have a particular [choice,] the coach decided to do the film and they were part of it, but I hope that as their life goes on, they understand that it was a special time being documented in history. Our film was actually released in pair with a high school baseball film that was made on the 50 year tournament, by Kon Ichikawa called “Youth”. I don’t know if it’s released in English, but the guy that made the Tokyo Olympics film in 1964, did a very similar style of film, an amazing film. When I first saw it, I was like, “Maybe I don’t need to do this, maybe something totally different.” And so that a lot of the theaters paired the 50 year and the 100th year, and I think that also helped understand like, “Okay, maybe this will carry meaning on in 50 years, 100 years and onwards, which also was meaningful to them, and very meaningful for me, too.

Shane:  

Clark’s asking in the chat, just because it’s a kind of a follow up, how about with Mizutani and Sasaki? Have you had any updates on them?  Is it status quo?

Ema:  

Sasaki, actually, we’ve remained very close, and he took a trip to the US last year to kind of learn more about American baseball, and took his whole team there. He’s really going through a phase where he really wants to learn from American baseball, and I see him kind of swinging there and back. I know the feeling of going to America, thinking everything’s great, and then actually realizing to pick and choose after a few years, I think that’s what he’s doing; it’s very interesting to see him evolve that way. He remains to be just one of the best coaches out there, and we’ll see if he can actually make it, he’s never won Koshien; that’s ultimately what I think is remaining on his career, so we’ll see. And Mizutani… actually, my biggest update, you might be surprised to know, is that he stopped shaved heads. Mizutani stopped shaved heads at the beginning of this year, which two years after Sasaki, as we captured the film, we didn’t know it at the time, or maybe we hoped it would be, but it really became a turning point that such a powerful team deciding to stop shaved heads by the following year 2019, noticeably at Koshien. You can see some of the teams, out of the 50 teams, not have shaved heads. Now I am shocked that Mizutani, who in our film just never seemed to have that… and he says “It’s now the time for each kid to think for himself, what’s the best hairstyle to play good high school baseball? I don’t want to impose his answer.” But I can’t help but imagine his own son coming home from [the] dorm with longer hair, I really think that had a direct impact. So that’s interesting. Mizutani was a weird one, I didn’t know for a month if he’d seen the film, because I was wanting to have a special screening for him, but then COVID happened and then all of a sudden the film release happened in Japan. So actually, we didn’t have a chance to show it to him. After one month- we had interacted about other things because he was helping us get the word out- but he had never told me if he’d seen it, what he thought about it, and I was getting nervous. We visited Tokushima, his home prefecture, and saw his mother and sister, and when I saw the sister, I asked her, “Have you heard if your brother’s seen the film?” And she immediately called him and he said he apparently snuck into a screening that I was at to talk, but didn’t tell me; he was too shy, he said. I’m sure it’s overwhelming to see your life being played back like that, and he said he couldn’t stop crying, and he came to the final day too, and he loved it. But actually the sister, who you might recall being a little pointy in the film, she was also like, “I haven’t cried since ‘ET,’ I was weeping and it made me love my brother, even though I really hated him for a lot of my life.” So that was a very personal reaction that also made me happy. 

Shane:  

Yuriko, your fellow filmmaker and documentarian is asking about his son. He was a star, I was amazed, he’s batting cleanup as a freshman on one of the best teams.

Ema:  

When I first met him, when he was still in middle school, he was a big kid, very polite and nice, but just kind of a little bit sitting on the couch, hanging out like a regular kid, and I just didn’t know what to do. I still don’t know baseball skills, so I just didn’t know if he had any potential, and just the fact that within our filming period, he just became this star as a freshman. And he continued to do well, he made it to Koshien as a sophomore last year, so he did get a chance to play, although his father, as promised, didn’t go. He was like, “I’m coaching my own team.” So I actually went and saw him, and it was nice. And then he became this faded hero, not having a chance to go for Koshien in his senior year. The pros have been interested in him, although I believe he didn’t apply to be drafted and, and he’s going to university, but I think his dream is to go pro at some point. So yeah, I really think that Mizutani has good things about him, he definitely has his flaws, but for me, the fact that he had the insight as a father to send his son away to his most trusted disciple, versus coaching him himself or doing something else, I think really is one of the best decisions he’s made, and it’s definitely paying off. I think it takes a kind of insight to be able to do that, especially if he knew that his son was going to be that good. So I think that’s an observation I’ve made throughout this period.

Steven: 

Hi Ema, thank you very much for your film, and for meeting us tonight. I have a question for you, but I just want to point out that Ichiro’s my hero too, and a few weeks ago, I was in a group meeting. It was a webinar, and one of the speakers was Bill Bavasi, who brought Ichiro to Seattle, and he talked about Ichiro’s work ethic. He said for a seven o’clock game at night, Ichiro would be in the locker room at 10 a.m, and he would begin his routine with a massage. He had his own personal masseuse, and basically said that that massage was violent, and in fact, the misuse himself broke his own rib one time giving a massage to Ichiro. He had an incredible amount of discipline, which I absolutely love. But anyway, my question concerns Koshien, and I love your film. I was actually there in 2017. And I wonder if you were the film crew behind me, because I was sitting about four seats in front of a film crew. I was along the first baseline for the opening ceremony. Was that you?

Ema:  

No, because we filmed in 2018, and also, actually, despite being the historic 100th Koshien film that was in co-production with NHK, approved by the high school baseball union, despite this, we were still not allowed to film ourselves in Koshien. All the footage from within Koshien was from NHK footage; this is how crazy the rules were. That’s also why we didn’t hinge our documentary on the Koshien tournament, like behind the scenes, because we weren’t allowed. So that little known secret was like no, it’s not us because we weren’t allowed to film.

Steven:

Well, here’s my question: the opening ceremony, which is amazing in itself, because you have all the teams marching into John Philip Sousa music, and then they have a ceremony, and all the teams leave except the two that will play the first game. And then, over the stadium. A helicopter came flying in, hovered, lowered itself, dropped a parachute with I think the game ball at the end of the parachute. This is my question, I find it kind of interesting. That parachute was the Japanese Imperial flag, which I found interesting because the International Olympic Committee did not want to see that flag flown during the Olympics, and they pressured Japan not to fly that flag. I’m just wondering if you know the history of the use of the Imperial flag at Koshien.

Ema:  

Yeah, I don’t know the specific reason for that. The helicopter moment was amazing, you have to be there, it’s really hard to experience it, with the helicopter and the ball drops, falls to the ground, it’s amazing. I didn’t know it was wrapped in the Imperial flag, but there’s definitely a history or kind of meaning associated with certain pieces and parts of high school baseball culture I think, kind of old Japan or the militarists. That’s obvious, because you know, you see the militaristic aspects of it, but it’s hard to know fully, and it’s kind of a lot of speculation for me too, with no one answer. I would just say, it’s not a coincidence that like Koshien is held in August, and August 15, the day of the end of the war, is always within the tournament, where everybody has a moment of silence with whoever’s playing that day, and it’s all broadcast. I think it’s associated with all the Koshien stars who went to war and died. There’s a sad history of that, and I think a lot of former baseball players, now coaches, or people who run high school baseball, always want to remember those experiences on whichever side. It’s really hard for me to know fully, and I think there’s a lot of speculation about the shaved heads, kind of always associated with wartime, although it’s not a rule. There’s no rule that ever said, “You must have a shaved head,” it’s just always been Koshien, and maybe an unspoken thing for different reasons. So there’s definitely ties, and I think that’s why it also sometimes gets politicized, because some people see high school baseball as kind of like a right-wing cause, and then therefore, the left-wingers have a problem with that aspect of it. But it’s really hard to understand, and I also didn’t really get into it, because I don’t think there’s any right answer. But yeah, it’s a very sensitive part of that, and I don’t know how aware that a regular Japanese public person is either, so it’s a tough one..

Shane:  

Thanks for the question Steven. That might be another documentary to make.

Ema:  

Yes, there’s a lot of aspects to it. It’s interwoven with everything, I think, and whether how comfortable or uncomfortable it is, it’s all 100 years ago, or even 75 years ago was the end of the war. So there’s so much history that’s still tied in and generations that remember, even if you didn’t experience it. In our film, that’s what we tried to tie in, like, Tsuta who was a kamikaze pilot that ended up not dying, came back and became a high school baseball coach, much like a lot of other[s]. Everybody who survived the war had to do something, whether it was coaching, high school baseball, becoming a teacher, or anything else, and that there was a generation that was raised by those people. And then, the next generation is Mizutani, who was raised by those people, and has some aspects of very strict, very militaristic beliefs. And then with Sasaki, who’s another generation removed, who understands keeping some aspects but really trying to do his own thing too. And then, another generation beyond is like me, it’s not that far along. I think we always have to acknowledge things that have built Japan, but also the understanding we don’t have to keep doing that. I think that’s also something I tried to explore in the film, because I think society is struggling with that, trying to figure out what things to keep and what things to change, as Sasaki said so well in the film.

Shane:  

Yuriko says she’s going to cover that in her documentary, so you’re off the hook. I’m going to go to Michael, who might have an explanation of the flag for Steven.

Michael:  

Yeah, the flag is from Asahi Shimbun, which is a newspaper, and it’s also the newspaper that founded Koshien back 100-plus years ago now. So that explains why that flag is being used, although I don’t usually see the whole Imperial flag. They usually have it cut out, like a section of it, is my impression of how the Asahi Shimbun uses the flag, but it being cut off like that is the logo for Asahi Shimbun, so it looks very similar to the Imperial flag without quite being it. Also this book, “School Days in Imperial Japan,” covered a lot of the very early baseball teams. It was called high school, but it’s equivalent to what Junior High is now, and how they were run very militaristically. High school in the very early days, the early Showa era, was very military camp-like, and that’s what is slowly being phased out, but what a lot of schools still do. It also explains the shaved heads and everything.

Ema:  

I remember now, the flag. I always saw the Asahi newspaper flag, and it is similar, you’re right. It’s weird, because Asahi is more known to be actually left-leaning, and more liberal. I don’t know if they’re aware of the flag, I’m sure they are, but I don’t think that is a direct connection. It’s more like the host of the High School Baseball Summer Koshien is Asahi, so that must be why that flag is there. But I did remember, and my American cameraman did point that out. I remember being like, “There’s Imperial flags everywhere,” because it’s everywhere, not just the helicopter. I don’t know if they’re self-aware, sometimes it’s surprising how not self-aware some companies or things are in Japan.

Michael:  

Well, its history is the thing; it was their logo back 100 years ago. So it’s still their logo.

Gabe:  

I was able to watch the documentary on Japan Society, thank goodness they offer their services across North America as opposed to just in the US, so grateful for that. My question is around something you brought up: how you weren’t able to film in Koshien Stadium. So I was curious what your contingency plan was, if either any of the teams you focused on actually won Koshien. I know there’s been a history of team-focused documentaries actually going and winning the whole thing, like I’m thinking specifically of Stephen King and Stewart O’Nan writing a Red Sox season chronicle in 2004, when they reversed the curse, and then two authors trying to pull the same stunt to will the Mets to a World Series in 2005, which didn’t quite work as well.

Ema:  

Yeah, we flew out, trying to ask for a special exception or something, should one of these teams make it to Koshien, so that we had access within the stadium, but there’s also very strict rules even outside of the stadium, you know, in the hotels, and there’s rules. You can film the teams outside the stadium during certain times in certain places, so we knew we could film that, like the practice before a game that’s not at the stadium or certain hours, where they’re staying and things like that. We always had this idea for pleading that we’ve been filming every day since March, and now they’re in Koshien, let us kind of follow. But it didn’t really come to that, I would say because Hanamaki also lost in the first round. We did film with the Hanamaki team around those days when they were staying in Kansai, it just didn’t really didn’t make the film. One trick that we knew, because there was such strict regulation not just in the city, but outside the stadium, people lining up and different things, all that footage was from NHK. But there is a shrine that actually is in the film. So next to the stadium, there’s like a Koshien Shrine, where at this point, it’s like the mecca for all things High School Baseball, and Hanshin too, because of the location. We realized that within the shrine, we had full permission, as long as the shrine was okay, to film whatever. So we did try to lure some kind of Hanamaki parents, as you saw, into the shrine area. They were going to go anyway, but we wanted to make sure. We did a few interviews of parents that aren’t in the film, but we used the shrine space to do as much filming as we could, because that’s the only space we had for it. It did help that I could, without a camera, be behind the scenes and observe things too, whether it was just the press circus that happens after a game, when the coach and the one player popped up on this stand and they have to do interviews. The stand kind of looks like a zoo honestly, with one human higher than everyone. Just being with the Hanamaki team in those moments after, and what it feels like even to lose, even if you’ve made it to Koshien. So that helped me, because I think ultimately, when you can’t film something, as the director I just absorb everything. I have to feel confident when I’m making the film, that based on everything I saw, which I tried to see as much of, I’m not distilling it into 90 minutes to show to people that weren’t there. Whether Hayato won or Hanamaki won, in these moments to share some truth, so when I can’t film something, that’s all I can do, and I definitely feel like that helped me inform what to film after, with Sasaki running and different scenes that we filmed after their loss, and things like that. You really fight for access, and we got a lot, but that was our plan. Like I mentioned, there’s a way to make a film where you can plan, you have to make a film out of why you can film, which is also why Hayato was so good, because we could be there every day. You can’t make a film about the Koshien Stadium, we knew that, so we planned accordingly.

Keith:  

Really enjoyed the documentary. I was personally struck: there was the one scene where Mizutani is driving at night, and he talks about at times losing his sense of confidence. I was curious, have you had a feeling that he felt alone, even though he’s surrounded by his family and surrounded by his players at school? Did you find him trapped in that traditional mold? And did he feel a sense of aloneness is my first question. My second question is, I’m just curious, the great disparity between how many times Sasaki has been to Koshien, 10 times, and Mizutani, only once? Do you personally have any insights into that? Do you attribute it to the difference in their styles, the old versus the new? Are there differences in their prefectures in terms of their resources of each high school? Or the competition that each faces in its prefecture to account for that?

Ema:  

Great questions, thank you. I feel like a high school baseball coach, Mizutani of course, but it’s a very lonely profession. I assume a coach in any case to [that] degree is maybe like an American college football coach, like the kind of pressure that any professional coach, except the difference is, a high school baseball coach is first and foremost a teacher, and they get paid like a teacher; they don’t get paid millions, it’s really just for the love of it. They all have to be a teacher first, and then a coach, and it’s a very strict rule like that. What I felt more than anything, and especially in that year after when I was looking through footage… because when I was filming, I was so attached to the players, the kids, and I was like one of them trying to make it to Koshien, and very emotional about their ups and downs. It took me going through the footage to really understand the pressures and pain, looking back at the spring when Mizutani was putting on a strong face, and I think he truly believed he really wanted it. I mean, every year he wants to go to Koshien, and believe that in a miracle, that would happen, and I’m sure we added to that pressure on him, because we’re filming. But seeing the cracks in his facial expressions, even in the spring, knowing that even in the best year, it is very hard to make it to Koshien from Kanagawa; there’s 200 teams, so really hard. But just realizing that, and then just the way he just lost so much weight after that loss, and you know, until recently, two years later, I really felt like he was not the same person. I think that season really broke him, and I saw it in real time. Especially that day when we went home with him, which was actually a few days after the loss; it was very soon after, but it wasn’t the day of, because it took me a few days to convince him that we have to film him in this state, because who wants that? It is a really hard thing to ask, asking to accept to be filmed in such devastation. But again, like with Sasaki and for the future of Japanese society, you have to find a way to know what you need for your story, and to explain that when you’ve been filming every day from the spring, how much he wanted this. We have to film how devastated you are to convey how devastating it is, or you’re just gonna seem like you’re okay. It took me a few days to be able to get in that car with him to go home. That continues when the new team starts, and at school has to put on a brave face so quickly, but the next day after they lose, the new season starts. And that was my big realization: for these kids, it’s a once in a lifetime thing, and they move on, hang out on the beach, and you can get a sense, maybe, of their life that’s ahead of them. But high school baseball coaches, he’s done this for almost 30 years now, and the obsession that makes him do that… I mean, I would not do it, but he’s almost trapped in it, this eternal desire to go to Koshien, even though he’s been once. He just can’t get enough of it, and I don’t think he knows how to get away.

Keith:  

Do you think he will ever join his family’s business?

Ema:  

I told his mother this summer, because she’s like 85 now and she seemed to still hope for that, and I was just like “I don’t think he’s coming home.” No, I don’t think so. But it’s also realizing that he had these other options and broken promises, to not just his immediate family, but his parents too. And that’s why I think he’s worthy of being the main character of this historic 100 Koshien tournament, even though he didn’t win Koshien, because he captures so much of the good and bad things, why this culture is so prominent in Japan, I really think he just captured all of that. Your second question: first of all, yeah, it’s definitely depending on the prefecture, your chances of going to Koshien are really different. Iwate, I think, had 60 teams, and Kanagawa has almost 200. In the 100th year, they had two teams go from Kanagawa, but usually it’s one, so you have to win like nine times through Kanagawa, whereas in Iwate, I think it’s five, so that’s a big difference. And then just the level of talent, Sasaki gets the best kids out of his region, he by policy doesn’t recruit from outside the prefecture, but that’s okay because he gets the best, whereas in Kanagawa, Hayato is maybe the 10th to 20th best school in the prefecture, not the first, so all the local kids will go to the best schools. There’s other schools that are recruiting from across the country, like Yokohama High School, for example, which has always kind of had this biggest obstacle, they just recruit the best kids from across the country, so they just kind of get these players who are not the “top” top but not bad. Going to Hayato, it’s actually very difficult, and you have to be pretty good, but they’re always the underdog, and within that, they have to figure out a way to go. I think it says something that, in this 100th tournament where Mizutani said his report card, he ends up losing so badly, he hasn’t lost in the first round in 17 years, that also says something about his style. Something that was working previously- he went to Koshien in 2009, and I’m sure he was a very similar kind of coach at the time- isn’t working anymore. I didn’t have to say that explicitly, because the results showed that, so there definitely must be a thing about the times, and the kind of kids that are coming up now in the 21st century is no longer the post war period. Like he said, he can’t produce the results he used to, and I think that really also devastated him, and that’s why I think is trying to change, as he said, with the “no shaved heads.” If you go to see Hayato play now, maybe there’ll be something different, but I think also at the heart of it is, he can’t change. How do you change? I think that’s really relatable maybe to an older generation who’s being forced to… you know, society is like, “You’ve always been this way, now it’s not appropriate to be a certain way or do certain things and bad things are bad.” I really emphasized to like, now we expect to change us very hard. So I see all of that, I saw all of that in him and maybe again, the best he is doing is passing on to his son the different options, or like his disciple Sasaki taking what was good about Mizutani, but also expanding on other things.

Tom:

I coach baseball here in the US, and [I’m] hoping to move to Kobe, next year and hopefully study high school baseball a little bit more. What do you think the US could learn from Japanese high school baseball, or should learn from Japanese high school baseball? And vice versa, what could they learn from America? Or do you think they should learn from America?

Ema:  

I just think that the history of baseball, and what significance high school baseball has in Japan and the US is quite different. As I’m sure you all know, in the US baseball started, the pro leagues started first, it was kind of this thing that people in town started. Whereas in Japan, you know, it was very specifically brought by a teacher to Japan, first in the university level, and then in the high school level, and it was [for] students, there’s no such thing as [professional] sports at the time. Baseball was categorized as a martial art, and incorporated into youth education, it was a student activity that was supposed to mold your character, as well as play baseball. That’s why Koshien and high school baseball has a much longer history than Japanese Professional Baseball, that only started in the 1930s. So the mentality of what high school baseball provides, and that’s why you do it 360 days a year for many, many hours a day, not necessarily to be good baseball players- although I guess all kids wish for that- but by the time you’re in high school, you know that only one person on your team might have a chance to continue at a high level. Hayato had 129 kids join the club, and most of these kids will never play an “A” team game. There’s “B” team games, but otherwise, you’re designated to cleaning the grounds and sweeping the lockers and cleaning the toilets, like all of it is part of your training, and people still think it’s valuable. Because ultimately, the relationships you build, and then the way you’re groomed to dedicate yourself to whatever role that you’re assigned, is translatable skills in Japanese society. And this point, because high school baseball was much stricter than other sports in the high school level, I’ve heard there’s like companies that prefer a former high school baseball player to be hired, there’s slots for them versus for other types of high school kids, because they know they can expect a certain kind of person, so that kind of an advantage. But I feel like in America, they’re not playing high school baseball to get a good job or something. I feel like they probably want to play baseball, and they’re good athletes to probably play other sports in different seasons; none of that exists in Japan. I think in Japan, high school baseball was very much a team sport, it’s to the point of detriment, where you do everything as a team. If there’s a good hitter, the hitter has to do fielding and everything else. It’s not like a program just for that guy, versus I feel like in the US, if there’s like a star hitter, that person just has to go to the coach and make sure he’s a good hitter, and they can maybe go pro, so it’s a different mentality. I do think that the team aspect and idea of following, doing as you’re told as a basic before questioning things, all of this reflects on society, right? I feel like even with COVID, and I think when ESPN showed our film, on Twitter there were some comments about how like, “We should follow rules, like [the] Japanese are doing! Look in Japan, there’s very little COVID.” How people as a culture, kind of consideration for the group. Like in Japan, we wore masks before COVID if we had a cough, not for ourselves, but to make sure we weren’t passing anything to anyone else. It was just the basic mentality. It’s such a sacrifice for the group mentality that’s shown in high school baseball, and then in society. The flip side of that is there’s less entrepreneurship, I would say generally, than the US and those kind of individuals that go out too strong are beaten down sometimes, way more than in America, but it’s like the hand of the negative, front and back of the same hand, I think these things go hand in hand. If you observe differences like the US high school baseball way, and Japan does good things and bad things… I think it must be somewhere in between the best, and that’s what I’ve tried to do with my life. I think the key question is, which are the best things? And whether it was for baseball coaching, or how society should be, or how we should live, or in different industries, how we should be thinking? What I tried to do in the film is start these conversations and think about it. And I have no idea what the answer is.

Tom:

One other quick question. You said Mizutani and Sasaki, they work at the school. What do they teach, what was their role outside of baseball?

Ema:  

Yeah, so they’re both history teachers. So in high school baseball, my understanding is that to be a coach, you have to have a teacher’s license. And you have to basically actively [teach,] you can’t just come to practice, like you have to have a role. Their load is probably not as strong, they don’t have like 50 classes a week or something, but they have to teach. In terms of Mizutani’s case, he’s actually one of the vice principals, too. I think that comes not because he’s exceptional, his role is a high school baseball coach, and the impact is brought to the school over his time there, has landed him up in this role. But they’re both Japanese history teachers, and I really tried to film them teaching, but that didn’t happen. I’m assuming they’re better high school baseball coaches than Japanese history teachers, that’s my guess, but I never saw them. They were very reluctant to show that part of themselves to me.

Shelly:

Hello! So first, I’m just gonna say how much we totally enjoyed the documentary. I love the way you really illustrate all the love about baseball, but also really brought in the culture that we always find ourselves, as people, in, sort of the good things we’re trying to do with the kind of bad things that come about, because of the culture in some sort of way. My question for you is really, if we could just turn the lens onto you for a second, as if we were the documentarians, I would like to know what you are most proud of in the film that you made, and maybe what you wished you had done differently, if you have any thoughts on that, looking back on it?

Ema:  

I’m very proud that this film exists, I feel like this took a lot of resilience from beginning to end from getting that first permission to getting the film out, and the way we were able to. Just like sweating and crying throughout it all, because it was so hot and I was so emotional about it all, there were times, like when Hayato lost, I just remember being in shock, because we just weren’t expecting them to lose in the first round, and the cameraman was quite upset too. But especially him, I was like,  “You have to keep filming.” IHe knew but like, we had to keep filming and I just was able to do my job in this hysterical state I was in, trying to keep it together. But also feeling like we had to, because I always think like, throughout this film, and throughout all everything I do, it’s not enough for me to feel this thing. My job is to capture it, so that other people who weren’t here can feel it. That’s what always drives me, that’s what makes me get up whenever I need to go film this thing that may or may not ever be seen, but there’s a chance of something interesting happening, we just have to. The more we’re there, the more possibility. so that is what keeps me going, when at times I just want to be like “oh, today, nothing might happen, so we won’t go.” But there was never a doubt, because anything can happen at any moment, and I just was very driven. I guess I’m proud that I had that attitude. And in hindsight, we probably could have taken some days off, but we wouldn’t know which days that would be, so there’s that. Now having made the Koshien film, and then also having made my previous film, which is again very different, I feel like I’m up for anything. The range I’ve been able to do between the two films, and even since then I’ve had a few other projects and shoots. People keep complaining  “It’s hot,” and I’m just like, “There’s nothing hotter than that summer of 2018.” I just know how to handle things, I think it’s going to be like the basis of my strength as a filmmaker moving forward, we got that done, despite the odds and despite so many uncontrollable outcomes, and figuring out Hayato’s story, that hopefully was compelling. So I’m very proud of that. There’s always things I regret, I sometimes remember things I couldn’t capture, especially with Sasaki in the early days, where in front of my eyes, amazing moments of high school baseball coaching or meanings of life, things that I took as a person, but I was not able to share with everyone because for whatever reason, we weren’t filming, the trust wasn’t there yet or I couldn’t negotiate in the right way to be rolling at that moment, and we lost those moments. I have them in my memory, but you guys don’t get to see it. These things, there’s a lot of those, and they’re endless, too. So for me, it’s always been like it almost hasn’t happened if I haven’t captured it. That’s how I have to approach everything as a filmmaker. There’s always more things we could have done., but I don’t lose sleep over that. I did for a while, but as with endless things, and hopefully, as I move on in my career, I’ll just get better and better at this craft.

Shelly:

All the contingencies you captured so that you had options, just really impresses me. We’re totally looking forward to your film on the elementary schools. 

Ian:  

Hi, Ema, how are you doing? I have three questions. So you talked about this earlier, and in the movie, you talk about Japan changing. That started with Commodore Perry in the 1850s, and it’s happening now. Do you see that growth, that change, happening exponentially over these last 20 years? The second question is, do you have any plans to try to make a documentary about Ichiro that’s more than your “Dear Ichiro” project? Have you tried to reach out for him? And third, were you surprised that Shohei Otani said that he sucked this year? Because he had an interview, and he said that he sucked this year, and I’ve never seen him been so forthcoming, he kind of took off that robotic figure that he puts out. And, I hope your grandfather’s doing well.

Ema:  

Thank you. So you may or may not know, I met Ian in Seattle last year. He was one of the subjects of my “Dear Ichiro” series, where I featured Ichiro fans in Japan and the US. I feel like Ian is like an opposite, we’re the same age, I think, and the opposite of me, where Ichiro came to Seattle when [Ian] was like 10, or 11, and that triggered all this interest in Japan, which is like, just another wonderful impact that Ichiro has had. And I’m like the reverse, because Ichiro made me interested in the US. So you know, very, very interesting that way.

Ian: 

You make me look much smarter than I actually am, so thank you.

Ema:  

No, but it’s a great piece that you can check out. So your first question… when Perry came, I wasn’t around. I think in terms of…. COVID…. I don’t know what this will change. We’ll see in a few years, but until then, like when I was making the Koshien film, it was so much about what [speaks Japanese]- I don’t know what the English word is. It’s basically a lot of discussion about changing the way we work. New laws were being discussed, because so many people were overworking. Japan is known for its overworking death rates, and [the] suicide rate is really high. There was a movement to change that, so they were like, “You can only work a certain amount of hours a day.” Just basic things that America has, we just didn’t have. I really thought that is a parallel to high school baseball, it’s always too extreme. Do you really need this in this day and age? It’s so hot, and what it means to put the kids through this. There’s a lot of criticism about that, too, even though it’s always been that way. Always being that way is not a good reason to continue it, but a lot of things do do it that way. I just felt like an intense discussion about both these things going into the 100th tournament, but what I think we have to acknowledge is when the 100th tournament came about, despite those criticisms, it was the highest attended Koshien ever, and the ratings on TV were the highest in (I think) 20 years and we went wild for [Kosei] Yoshida, who was a pitcher from Kanaashi School, the small public school that was runner up in Koshien that year, and he threw 1500 pitches over the course of the regionals and Koshien, and he was the hero. And yet, of course, there’s always criticism and discussion, putting down the pitch count, which is a serious issue, but just like the contradicting nature of the discussion, and then the outcomes of the general public. I’m sure the people who are criticizing are so critical, but just how it ends up being the dominant thing in society still. So changes are happening, there’s pitch count rules in high school baseball, and just different considerations to make the sport less extreme. I think what’s really difficult about high school baseball is [that] the extremity of it is what makes it so significant in our culture. High school baseball, without being extreme, is not going to be the same at all. I think [Daisuke] Matsuzaka, who you must know, won Koshien and threw his arm out basically doing it; it doesn’t matter to a Japanese person that he didn’t do as well in the majors as we’d hoped, we always remember for that 18 year old boy, who gave a lifetime of inspiration that summer at the sacrifice of his arm. A lot of these kids, I think, are at the sacrifice of inspiration for a country, and that’s how it is by now. And that might not be fair, but I also think a lot of kids know that; that’s what they also want to be a part of, so it’s a very difficult matter. And as someone who loves high school baseball, I understand these issues that are problematic, and they need to change, but it’s very difficult: at what point does the essence of the sport, and the culture, start to erode, too? That’s the balance, and I think the people that have that job have a very difficult task on hand. It’s really easy also for us from the outside, to criticize the union or criticize the coaches, but it’s actually very difficult. “How do you educate the next generation in an appropriate way?” is always the question at hand, and seeing it firsthand, I don’t know, the answer, I just know it’s really difficult. I think in each of our fields, each job we have, those questions are at hand: how do we keep what was good, but also change? And that’s a topic I’m really interested in. Even in the three years I’ve come back and spent more time in Japan, there’s a lot of new conversations about [things] like that happening in expiadated rate. I would say even if it’s about like, same-sex marriage issues and things like this, that were like not part of dialogue. We’re still very behind compared to the US, but different social topics, different things that I didn’t hear about at all when I was growing up are happening. In being a filmmaker, I think a lot of fellow documentary filmmakers in Japan are about criticizing Japan, whether it’s the government or different aspects of society, and hoping for change, which I think is important, but thanks to those people, I also feel like I’m not kind of advocating for that. I also think there’s so many things about Japan that are so wonderful that the Japanese don’t realize, or take for granted. So that’s more what I’ve been drawn to, and I wanted to acknowledge in Koshien those basic wonderful things, like the helmets being in line, kind of being parallel to life, the people queuing up in society. Love it or hate it, high school baseball exists this way. That’s why Japanese society is this way. Maybe if high school baseball is less strict, or changes in a certain way, in 20, 30 years, when those boys are in positions of power in society, society will be different. Maybe the trains would be a little bit less on time, like a couple of minutes late, and maybe that’s not a big deal. Just pointing that out that you might expect you might have these changes you weren’t expecting, because you wanted this thing to change so much, just that everything’s connected. [That’s] kind of what I wanted to pose in the film, because that’s what I feel, that change is okay, but not like blanket change, I would have to really think about what kind of change. So about the Ichiro documentary- I would say since middle school when I found my baseball, which is filmmaking, and then I kind of started to pursue this path of being a filmmaker- I think it’s only natural that at some point, my ultimate goal in life became to combine what inspired me to be this anyway and make it a documentary. So that was my dream, that has been my dream, a dream seems really far away, and I say a goal now because goal seems a closer thing that could be attained. It’s not up to me, it’s up to him, but I feel like that’s going to be my goal. I’m going to not rush it, keep preparing for if that opportunity arises, whether it’s now, in 10 years or 50 years, to be available to make the Ichiro film, because I do think there needs to be a film that my great grandkids can watch and know about him. That doesn’t actually exist currently, despite all the footage that’s available in the world, and the fact that he’s alive and well now, so that’s something I want to do, but I’m being very careful about just preparing as Ichiro would want, for that great at bat, if I ever get that chance. Finally, Ohtani. Yeah, I guess I was also surprised that he was so open about how he was feeling. It was clear he was struggling, and I think we’re just all rooting for him so much, at least I am. How he is in public, I really think, is a big lesson of what he was taught by Sasaki. Sasaki had Yusei a few years before Ohtani and then Ohtani. Sasaki, at the time, was in his early 30s, when this thing happened to him, when [Yusei] came, and the media circus followed him and he had to learn on the job. By the time Ohtani came, Sasaki had a much better idea of how to handle such a star player, not just skill-wise, but the media, and I think he really taught Ohtani to have his guard up, so that he didn’t have to get hurt, because I think a lot of things happened with media relations that Sasaki regretted that he couldn’t take care of as well with Yusei. I think for fans, that makes Ohtani- we wish he would speak more candidly, or we want to know what he’s feeling more, and hopefully as he gets older, and he knows how to handle things, he will give us some more insight, because I think that’s what we want as fans, right? And we also think, we hope, he will do better. I will say, I did get a chance to interview both of them. I know Ohtani and Yusei, I had this luxury of interviewing Ohtani for 30 minutes, and then using like 30 seconds of it in the interview, because I think ultimately what I realized was, no matter what he said to me about high school baseball six years later- which was when we interviewed him- the footage I found of him that I do use in the film, of him in the moments after he lost that last game, it just was way more powerful. When I found that footage, it just kind of trumped everything that he said, although it was wonderful to meet him. I don’t think we’ll ever see Ohtani crying like that in public, but there was a time when all he wanted to do was make Sasaki proud and make it to Koshien for his community, and I think that’s a nice side of him to remember.

Yumi:

Hi Ema! Actually, I met you several years ago. Congratulations on your being a filmmaker, your accomplishment; it’s really, really wonderful. I didn’t know that you moved back to Japan until this film, I thought that you’re still living here. But anyway, you talked a little bit about Ichiro prior to this question, but I just read the article in the news saying Ichiro is probably gonna be the coach for high school, he got a license. Do you think there’s a chance for “Koshien 2,” with Ichiro?

Ema:  

Yeah! I also saw the news. We knew earlier this year that he took this test to have the authority to coach amateur baseball, meaning high school or college, which you have to do if you’ve been a professional. And then he went silent for most of the year, and then he was like, recently emerged last week and did a long interview, and hinted that he wants to not be like a full time coach. I don’t think he means to take a job like Mizutani and then do that for the next 30 years, but also not just being a coach for the day. I think there’s something in between that he hinted, and we’re all very excited. I guess in a perfect world, I now even feel more like that I’m up the job, and I just hope that he knows I exist. And if he’s interested that I’m considered, but yeah, I think we’re all curious what he’s going to do next. I think maybe he’s also not knowing, he’s had a year, especially with COVID, to think about what he really wants to do. He also mentioned that he’s in better shape now than when he was a player, he can throw the ball faster than he did. So he’s clearly still at the training, and part of me is hoping somehow… we just want to see him, right, we want to see him play or do something, but if I could film that, that would be amazing. I mean, you saw in my Koshien film, that his high school is in the film, and that was not a coincidence. We went to many schools, but it made sense also, because I was trying to push that to the US audience, like make it attractive for the US audience. But yeah, going there and kind of tying him in, in the hopes that he will see it one day, so we’ll see.

Yumi:

Yeah, I hate to say, but I kind of like bumped into him one time in the street, like near my neighborhood. And I have a bunch of friends who saw him at the noodles shop or somewhere while he was in the Mariners, and while he was in New York, and I wish I could tell you where to spot him.

Ema:  

Yeah, no, at this point, I would say upon doing that Ichiro fan series that I did last year, I feel like I’ve graduated being a fan, because I can no longer. He used to bring me pure joy just by existing, and now I’ve incorporated him into my work, so I don’t think I’ll even be satisfied if I just spot him, although I could present myself as a candidate for a documentary about him. So that’s kind of my goal now. So we’ll see where that takes me out. 

Shane:  

Alright, so that’s all the questions. Thanks so much for answering all those so thoroughly. I’m gonna have to watch the YouTube again, there’s so much there, so much good insight and interesting stories. Thanks for being so candid, and for your work, and for sharing your time with us. I really appreciate that. 

Ema:  

Thank you! It was wonderful to talk to everyone. I hope to be back to just listen in on some of these other Chatter Ups you do.

Shane:  

We’d love to have you, and you’re part of the family, and in any way we can help you… well, maybe we can try to find a way to help you make that documentary happen. That’d be the most epic documentary, an Ichiro documentary needs to happen. But yeah, thanks again. I’ll let you sign off; I know you have the day in front of you there in Tokyo.

Ema:

Thank you! Bye bye.

Shane:  

So that was fun, everyone. Thanks for all your questions. I just wanted to say a couple things before signing off here, considering this is the last “Chatter Up!” of the year. We started this in May; I’ll give Jesse, my wife, credit for coming up with the idea. When sports were canceled, I just wanted to do something with our community, and the original goal was to give people a platform to talk sports when there was no sports, and also to have a little bit of a diversion with all of the uncertainty and negativity going on. So I think we accomplished that goal, and the thing that’s been really cool is that, despite the fact that sports did return- and I’m sure everyone has a little bit of zoom fatigue, I know I do- people continue to show up. I think we had close to 40 people on today, and a lot of you have come every time or maybe only once or twice, but I appreciate all of you all the same for joining. It’s really been an interesting year, and not the best year to take over a business that relies on international travel and attending live sporting events, so doing these “Chatter Ups!” has given me some purpose and something to look forward to every couple of weeks. So I thank you all for your participation. This isn’t going to be the end of it, but I don’t plan on doing it every couple of weeks in 2021, maybe once a month or so, so hopefully, you’ll still be able to join us in and we can still connect digitally. But more importantly, hopefully, we can just go catch a ball game together next year, whether in the States or obviously abroad to hopefully one of the many destinations that we’re going to. So thank you all again.

Editor’s note: As mentioned, this will be the last “Chatter Up!” of 2020. If you’d like to continue support of the program and of JapanBall, please consider one of our upcoming tours, or perhaps a gift card for the holiday season. We hope you stay safe, and we’ll see you back here in 2021!

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