Yi-hang Ma, Ph.D. Candidate, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Written and produced by Wei Te-sheng and directed by Umin Boya, Kano tells the story of a baseball team from the Chiayi School of Agriculture and Forestry – or “Kano,” as the school was known in Japanese – that almost won Japan’s 1931 national high-school baseball championship. More than simply an exciting baseball movie, the film reexamines Taiwan’s colonial past, exploring issues such as modernity and civilization, colonialism and assimilation, history and memory.
Under the Spartan discipline of Hyotaro Kondo the Kano team – an ethnic mixture of Han Chinese, Japanese and Taiwan indigenes – blended complementary playing styles to eliminate competitors one by one, ultimately capturing second place in a tournament held at Japan’s famed Hanshin Koshien Stadium.
An important subplot is Yoichi Hatta’s design and construction of the Chianan Canal, an extensive system of irrigation. Although the canal was completed prior to the Kano team’s participation in the all-Japan tournament, the film takes temporal liberties in conjoining the two triumphal events. Thus, KANO is also a celebration of the intimate connection between people and the land.
Critics and the public have praised the work. Nevertheless, the film’s treatment of linguistic, historical and ethnic issues has been called into question. In fact, such questions touch on the sensitive issue of how Taiwanese view the colonial period, stimulating further reflection on the ways in which experiences and memories of the time are represented and interpreted. KANO raises other questions as well: Is the ethnically integrated team a picture of true equality or merely a token of the Japanese assimilation policy? How did the sport of baseball – then and now – become a symbol of Japanese national pride?
The baseball fad that swept Taiwan under Japanese rule reveals colonial culture’s complicated path of transmission: The Japanese philosophy of “one pitch to decide victory or defeat” – an ethic that emphasized hard training, complete focus and utter determination – infused the American sport and its Taiwanese descendant with an inherently Japanese ethos. This spirit carried over into other aspects of colonial life – in one scene, a nail is driven into a papaya tree to stimulate growth, a metaphor for the “no pain, no gain” training regimen the Kano players undergo.
In telling the story of a baseball team, KANO invites viewers to take another look at modern interpretations of what is perhaps the most controversial period in Taiwan’s history, the Japanese colonial era.
|Related Literary Themes：||Taiwan Literature under Japanese Colonial Rule|