On a hot summer day, East Iruma High is losing the first game of the high school baseball championship. In the bleachers sit drama class enthusiasts Yasuda and Tamiya, both struggling to understand the game, former baseball team member Fujino, and Miyashita – the former top student of her year, now supplanted by the trumpet-playing Kusumi. Over the course of the game’s final few innings secrets are shared, confessions are made, and long-running problems are exposed.
On the Edge of Their Seats, directed by Hideo Jojo, adapts an award-winning play created by a real-life high school drama group. Its theatrical origins can be guessed without that knowledge. Aside from a few scenes near the restrooms and in the school band’s section of the stadium, the entire film plays out on a few rows of seating at the top of the bleachers. Characters come and go, a full and satisfying narrative develops, but the film largely focuses in the same direction throughout. It is a difficult juggling act for any production team, and in this particular case it is accomplished with aplomb. It does not hurt that the film is a sprightly 75 minutes in length. It has enough time to step in, present a hugely entertaining story, and then make a neat exit before its audience tires of the format. The film’s theatrical origins are even clearer – amusingly so – when it becomes apparent that the baseball game underway is never actually seen by the audience. Letting the audience see the game would make it a basic setting for the personal story on the benches, Removing the game, while also being much cheaper, transforms it into a source of comedy.
The ensemble cast are hugely appealing, and play each of their characters well. Particularly good is Amon Hirai as the former baseball pitcher Fujino, who takes a while to explain why he is no longer on the pitch with his former team-mates, as well as Rina Ono as Yasuda, whose cynical behaviour throughout the film comes from a cleverly revealed source.
The story may initially seem to be a run-of-the-mill teen drama, but the screenplay operates like clockwork. It throws in little mysteries: off-hand comments, or character behaviours. It then explains them when they have the maximum effect, creating a beautifully tight three-act narrative. In many ways it is a near-perfect film in that its makers clearly knew exactly what they wanted to make – and then simply made it with enough flashes of originality to transcend most of its peers.
Some will not enjoy the film because it is a teen drama, and that is entirely their prerogative, but within the bounds of that particular genre On the Edge of Their Seats does not put a food wrong. For those of us who enjoy these kinds of films, it is excellent – and it manages to be strikingly inventive at the same time. If there is any justice it will finds audience both locally and at international festivals as well. It deserves the exposure.