Film review, February 21, Tokyo – Bring a football team from the nation’s capital and a movie production team of club fans together and you get a documentary. Simple? Not really. “Baile Tokyo – Weaving the History” was shot over the 2015 J-League season to tell the story of the ups and downs of a year that promised so much but delivered too little.
Followers will remember the early euphoria from sitting joint top with Urawa in the early part of the 2-stage format competition, the mixed farewell to striker Yoshinori Muto’s mid-season departure to Mainz, and the despair of the scoreless draw with Sagan Tosu on the last day of the season that left them short of a chance at the league’s top prize. Dedicated fans would also recall the season-ending away loss to Hiroshima in the Emperor’s cup semi-final.
Yusuke Sakakibara’s first full-length documentary speaks to fans and wannabes, drawing on the mutual affection amongst the players and with their fans. Mixing stock footage with press statements, casual conversations in relaxed settings, and the occasional training session, the to-and-fro disrupted attempts to create a coherent message but combined well to tell the story behind an up-and-down season.
Documentaries normally focus on characters or themes to build stories around them. Sakakibara chose to shine the spotlight on a select group of several persons in and around the team. Players, officials, supporters were covered along with the club physio, in a sub-narrative of a battle for fitness after injury, a topic that is often said but not necessarily properly portrayed as part and parcel of sport. Officials were roped in to clarify the club’s ambitions – bring Tokyo to the top of Japanese and Asian soccer – even though they admit that the team hasn’t won the domestic title.
On the business side of things, it tried to scratch the surface of fanbase growth and media coverage. Japan’s capital has a broad, vibrant population that has the potential to bring in massive turnstile receipts. Indeed, FC Tokyo boasts an attendance of 28,000 per home game, second only to the fanatical Urawa Reds support, but this intake hardly fills even three quarters of its 50,000-seater Ajinomoto Stadium. Half-hearted media coverage and mediocre performances had promised to change with the prolific Muto, but he left midway, as the film reminds us.
Football fans often rankle and fume about how their team lost, was unjustly penalized, and feel joy at a lucky escape and pride at a well-earned win. Involvement is emotionally charged, whether in the stadium or off it. The documentary did well to paint sentimental farewells to fond faces, most notably Muto and Kosuke Ota. The emotional roller coaster ride is probably its best part, so fans have been warned – bring your tissues.
Overall, the film echoed the club’s ride in 2015, opening with promise and trying to end on a positive, forward-looking message, by mentioning its new B team’s participation in J3, Japan’s third tier. So it was half-expected to run out of time, or steam like the team did in 2015, and viewers are left with the choice of leaving their memories of 2015 at the cinema or continue writing the next chapter of FC Tokyo’s history together with the club in the new J1 season, starting on February 27.
“Baile Tokyo – Weaving the History” is directed by Yusuke Sakakibara. Opened on 20 February (Sat.) at 19 theaters across Japan, including Toho cineplexes in Fuchu, Odaiba, Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Yokohama. Fuchu Toho cinemas opened for prescreening on 13 February and is giving out 3 special edition movie postcards per viewer while stocks last.
Official website (in Japanese only): http://baile-tokyo.jp