The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun

Home > Culture > Saigo no Soukeisen - The Passion of Youth Brought Back in a Movie -


Saigo no Soukeisen - The Passion of Youth Brought Back in a Movie -

The Last Cheers Exchanged in Times of War

The movie "Last Game: Saigo no Soukeisen" is scheduled for release in August. "Saigo no Soukeisen" refers to a baseball game held at Totsuka Stadium between Waseda University and Keio University on October 16th, 1943. The stadium later came to be called Abe Stadium, and it is currently the site of the Waseda University Library and International Conference Center which are in what is known as the "Center for Scholarly Information".

Now when you enter the center's gate, two bust statues are standing quietly to the right. The bust on the right is Isoo Abe, and on the left is Suishu Tobita. How many people really remember the students who came together at this stadium to cheer their teams, the young people who grasped the passion of youth, and the two men in the statues? Still more, the number of people are decreasing each year who know that at the end of the War in the Pacific, the students of both Waseda and Keio Universities, who were preparing to go to the front, played the last game during the war, exchanged cheers, and parted resigned to the fact that they might not live to meet again. "Last Game: Saigo no Soukeisen" is a movie that once again brings back these memories.

"Saigo no Soukeisen," a commemorative photo of both the Waseda and Keio University teams.

The Waseda-Keio Baseball Game, Its Beginnings and Popularity

The Waseda-Keio baseball game is representative of the sports games between the two universities, but the other sports clubs at the universities each have their own Waseda-Keio game, and a game that has been known since long ago is the Waseda-Keio Regatta held on the Sumida River (temporarily on the Ara River). Because this Waseda-Keio boat race was often filmed for newsreels and scenes in film dramas, overall it was the next most popular Waseda-Keio game after the baseball game. The first Waseda-Keio Regatta was also held early, in 1905, only two years after the first Waseda-Keio baseball game. This writer was recently the head of the kendo club for nearly ten years, so for me the Waseda-Keio game meant a kendo match. Kendo began later than baseball and boat racing in 1925.

The players of both schools lining up before the game. The stands are filled with students.

The first Waseda-Keio baseball game was held in November 1903, and Keio won. The second was held in June 1904, and Waseda won. Both games were played at the Keio Mita Ami-machi Baseball Stadium. The third game was held in October of the same year at Totsuka Stadium, and Waseda won. However in the fall of 1906, Keio University, fearing excessive fan-support, proposed the suspension of the games to Waseda University, and after that, the Waseda-Keio game was not held for an incredible 20 years. At the time, the popularity of Waseda-Keio games was already high, and the number of spectators are said to have reached into the tens of thousands.

Sports Fever Seen in Movies

The further increase in the popularity of college baseball came after the spring of 1925 when university participation rose successively, the Tokyo Big 6 Baseball League was formed, and the Waseda-Keio game was brought back (however, troubles and difficulties did continue). In the world of film, as silent films reached their peak, sports fever in movies, particularly movies about college sports, were popular. During the transition from the age of silent films to sound films for about 10 years around the beginning of the Showa period (1926), modern sports brought from the West, such as track, mountain climbing, rowing, rugby, and skiing, appeared in many Japanese movies with student and America movies as their guide. Also, in one of Yasujiro Ozu's movies, a group of students is depicted humorously with the sadness and joys of youth, and most of the film was shot on the Waseda University campus. In the notebook Ozu left behind as well, going to watch the Waseda-Keio game is written of often, and Ozu was partial to Waseda.

Contrary to the rabid enthusiasm shown for the Waseda-Keio game, hard-line movies which criticized the privileges of college sports were also made. In the left-wing movement that had become strong around 1930, "Sports" (1931) which took on a role in the works of the Prokino (Proletarian Film Federation of Japan) was one of these. The college baseball stars who were sold as entertainers and the players who had priority in using the schools athletic facilities - the movie criticized these kinds of special treatments and was in high spirits. Participating in its production was the young Satsuo Yamamoto, who would later become very successful as a director.

Students Going to the Front and Their Farewell Party

After the Manchurian Incident of 1931, Japan rushed into a 15-year war with China, and then in 1941 into the "Pacific War" against the United States and Great Britain. In 1938, the student mobilization in which university and other students were made to work in factories began, and in 1943, the draft deferment which had recognized university students was suspended for students of the arts and law. On October 21st of the same year, a farewell party was held at a sports field in the outer garden of the Meiji Shrine for the students who were being sent to the front. Because the appearances of that day, the solemn parade in the rain, were recorded in newsreels and commemorative films, the images of those young people being sent to the front lines still brings tightness to our chests. Thus except for science and technology students, all university students, high school students, and vocational school student (all of the old Japanese system) 20 years of age or older waited for their entry into the military in December.

On October 16th just before the farewell party for the students going to the front, the Waseda-Keio game was held on a clear day at Totsuka Stadium. Baseball was the sport of the enemy, America, so the games of the Tokyo Big 6 Baseball League had already been suspended, and it was a difficult period in the continuation of baseball itself.

"Last Game: Saigo no Soukeisen"

One scene of "Last Game: Saigo no Soukeisen"
©2008 "Last Game: Saigo no Soukeisen" production committee

"Last Game: Saigo no Soukeisen," directed by Seijiro Koyama, is a drama based on a true story which depicts the students of Waseda and Keio Universities' baseball clubs just before they depart for the front. Because the Waseda University baseball club is emphasized in this portrayal, it has a strong mood of the last Waseda-Keio game from Waseda's perspective. This movie quickly brings to mind two other movies. One is "Eireitachi no Ouenka Saigo no Soukeisen," a.k.a. "The Last Game," (1979) directed by Kihachi Okamoto. It gets through the last Waseda-Keio game in the first half of the movie, and during the second half, refines its focus to a Waseda University student (played by Toshiyuki Nagashima) who volunteers for the navy's Special Attack "Kamikaze" Unit and depicts the tragedy of the kamikaze units. The other movie is "Gekko no Natsu," a.k.a. "Summer of the Moonlight Sonata," (1993) directed by Seijiro Koyama. It is centered on the later story of a Kamikaze pilot who survives and is a deeply impressive film in which the episode where a music student who wanted to become a pianist and an education student who wanted to become a music instructor played Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" on the day before they take off from a kamikaze base.

Now on to "Last Game: Saigo no Soukeisen," the image of the war in this movie is pronounced, but the center of the drama is placed on the people who overcame difficulties and played the Waseda-Keio game with the relative importance of baseball being more than war. Among important characters other than members of the baseball club, there is Waseda's Suishu Tobita (Akira Emoto). He was a former team captain and an early baseball club manager. At the time he supported the baseball club by taking on the role of an advisor. Another character is the president of Waseda, Hozumi Tanaka (Makoto Fujita). The president stubbornly refused to allow the Waseda-Keio game. Although his consideration of the ban on baseball games and fear of a large crowd of spectators are shown, his mental state cannot be told in detail. In biographies of Hozumi Tanaka, he is a specialist in economics and finance, and his character is evaluated in such ways as a person lacking in interests, an eloquent speaker, a methodical person, and a man of will. If you read the record of the president's speech "8th Sports Day" (1934), he is insisting that university sports are not mere physical education or amusement but have a moral value. This is an idea close to Suishu Tobita's, who advocated the way of baseball.

He doesn't appear in the movie, but Isoo Abe, the other bust statue, was the founder of the baseball club and Totsuka Stadium. He is a person who in 1928 resigned from the university and worked hard in the socialist movement. Hozumi Tanaka hated socialism and Marx, but there was common ground between Hozumi Tanaka and Isoo Abe, as both of them believed in the benefits of sports in shaping personalities. At Keio University as well there was an educator of conviction, President Shinzo Koizumi (Koji Ishizaka), and while he only makes a small appearance, he gives a clear impression of Koizumi's personality. In any case, at the end of the movie, the scene where both schools exchange cheers and their school songs is moving, perhaps because we know the effects of defeat and the misery of war.

Additionally, with an exhibit of the Waseda University Archives as its impetus, this fall "1943 Banshu Saigo no Soukeisen," meaning "Late Fall 1943 - The Last Waseda-Keio Game," (Kyoiku Hyoron Sya) will be published with authors from both Waseda and Keio Universities.

"Last Game: Saigo no Soukeisen" Official Website
http://www.lastgame-movie.jp/ The distribution:cinequanon

Kenji Iwamoto, Professor Emeritus of Waseda University / Professor of College of Art, Nihon University

Born in 1943. Left the doctoral course of School of Literature, Waseda University, before graduation. His representative books include "Gentou-no-seiki-Eigazenya-no-shikakubunkashi (The Century of Optical Lanterns-History of Visual Culture on the Eve of Filming) " and "Silent-kara-Talkie-e; Nihoneiga-keiseiki-no-hito-to-bunka (From Silent to Talkie; People and Culture in the Formative Period of Japanese Movies), "both published by Shinwasha.