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Japan Cuts / “The First Slam Dunk”: Review / You Won’t See a Better Animation Film This Year

When manga artist Takehiko Inoue drew “Slam Dunk,” an ambitious and emotionally layered sports manga which ran in “Weekly Shōnen Jump” from 1990 – 96, it left audiences with a vivid recollection soaked in high school nostalgia.

After the series ended in 1996, there were some brief offshoots of the main series in collaboration with commercials or one-off projects. But “The First Slam Dunk” is a new animated film, the first time in 26 years. The story has been updated through Inoue’s steadfast hand as it steps into the world of cinema for the first time.

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This blockbuster rookie effort elevated audiences through a groundbreaking use of facial expression and body movement in a mix of computer-generated and hand-drawn animation to capture the explosive physicality of basketball. The film literally captured the characters playing the game of their lives.

The First Slam Dunk” started with a fateful showdown between two high school basketball teams: the Shohoku, a scrappy but strong-minded team and Sannoh’s undefeated champion team.

If you didn’t grow up in Japan or were familiar with the original manga or TV series, then you wouldn’t know any of the players involved or what this match really meant to audiences. All you would see is the game itself— which slowly became one hell of a spectacle.

The First Slam Dunk” shows the game as it plays out over the course of its runtime, cutting away intermittently to dig into the past of each Shohoku player and how they formed this dominating team. In order to facilitate this unique approach, Inoue shifts away from the main character of the manga or anime series, a Dennis Rodman-like delinquent and rebound god, Hanamichi Sakuragi, to focus on the small but speedy point guard, Ryota Miyagi. His backstory was never told in manga and anime series, so it became an incredibly heartwarming entry point to the story in the film.

Ryota is still mourning and dealing with the death of his older brother, basketball mentor Shota (Kajiwara Gakuto). Ryota tries to seek some closure to the painful memories of his brother by continuing to play basketball — a sport they both loved.

Besides Ryota, the team consists of an incredible ensemble. Teenage delinquent and self-proclaimed basketball genius Hanamichi (Kimura Subaru) is the original manga’s protagonist and the film’s most captivating character. A wild man on the court with dyed red hair to match, Sakuragi steals the show every time he’s on screen.

Takenori Akagi (Miyake Kenta) is the team’s powerhouse, barking orders at it and captivating the crowd with his signature play called the “Gorilla Dunk.” Then, Kaede Rukawa (Kamio Shin’ichiro) — a prospect for being a future Japan national player —provokes his teammates into playing harder with his insults. Hisashi Mitsui (Kasama Jun) is a former hoodlum who turned over a new leaf to become the three-point specialist.

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Coach Mitsuyoshi Anzai can always be counted upon to put things in perspective for his young players, pepping them up by saying, “If you give up then it all ends here.

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Inoue sets the tone for this multifaceted tale about the unique ability for a sport to help people come back from their worst failures. The game turns into an exhilarating experience, with exciting POV shots from the characters’ perspectives and impossible camera angles that can only be achieved in anime. Even after watching the film, you still hear the squeaking of sneakers, the echo of dribbling and the chanting crowd.

Inoue wants to provide both a satisfying entry point for newcomers, and a fleshed-out standalone film for existing fans. The Slam Dunk manga series spans 31 volumes, and the film tries to cram all that high school drama into a coherent two-hour film with a relentless set of gambits, twists, and emotional outbursts brought to the screen.

I haven’t seen any sports film which reduced a sport into a single game that ecstatically conveys the expressions of its characters so effectively. You won’t see a better animation film this year.

Check out more of Nobuhiro’s articles.

Here’s the trailer of the film.

Nobuhiro Hosoki
Nobuhiro Hosokihttps://www.cinemadailyus.com
Nobuhiro Hosoki grew up watching American films since he was a kid; he decided to go to the United States thanks to seeing the artistry of Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange.” After graduating from film school, he worked as an assistant director on TV Tokyo’s program called "Morning Satellite" at the New York branch office but he didn’t give up on his interest in cinema. He became a film reporter for via Yahoo Japan News. In that role, he writes news articles, picks out headliners for Yahoo News, as well as interviewing Hollywood film directors, actors, and producers working in the domestic circuit in the USA. He also does production interviews for Japanese distributors of American films and for in-theater on-sale programs. He is now the editor-in-chief of Cinemadailyus.com while continuing his work for Japan.

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