The First Slam Dunk
Director: Takehiko Inoue
Starring: Shugo Nakamura, Jun Kasama, Shin'ichirō Kamio, Subaru Kimura, Kenta Miyake
I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of basketball, in fact, it’s not really very good, is it? Still, I love an underdog story and Takehiko Inoue’s The First Slam Dunk promised just that whilst wrapped in the embrace of fabulous animation and CGI from Toei Animation. Based on Inoue’s manga series Slam Dunk, the film focuses mainly on Shohoku High School’s point guard Ryota Miyagi (Nakamura), and the barriers he has overcome to have a shot at reaching the top, though the clever writing allows for every character to receive important and nuanced depth.
"This engaging narrative technique propels the story forward and somehow makes the viewer feel as if they are on the court, or watching from the sidelines, with these warriors."
Initially, I had assumed that the film would follow Shohoku High School’s basketball team as they ascend through the ranks to reach the Inter-High School National Championship game. Instead, we find the team already qualified for the final where they will face off against the undefeated, surely insurmountable Sannoh Kogyo High School. We see the game play out, we hear the player's thoughts, we see their discussions, and, cleverly, the narrative constantly switches from the big game to providing glimpses and important moments from the player's lives. In doing this, Inoue creates something that feels unique and allows for greater depth outside of just a focal character - though Miyagi’s story, concerning his deceased brother, is emotional enough to carry the film alone.
This engaging narrative technique propels the story forward and somehow makes the viewer feel as if they are on the court, or watching from the sidelines, with these warriors. Making the characters, well, actual characters ensures the unfolding revelations mean more and hit harder as we reach the final buzzer. Speaking of which, the final moments of the game are captured so spectacularly that I was on the edge of my seat, the techniques utilized to achieve this magic moment provided a genuinely pulsating experience. The animation is slick and, whilst it initially feels stiff, it quickly explodes into life, especially during the basketball scenes which resonate with real energy, accompanied by a strong score from Satoshi Takebe and Takuma Mitamura. Being overly critical, the film did feel slightly stretched at two hours, and, whilst there were no real lulls to speak of, some light trimming would really have beefed this up further.
It goes without saying that you don’t need to be a fan of basketball to appreciate the story. The First Slam Dunk takes its underdog story and imbues it with real profundity and emotion, without losing sight of the spectacle of the game at hand. It’s a brilliantly crafted and compelling film, you could say…it’s a…slam dunk.
July 23rd 2023