As I watched this Shochiku-produced sports drama, an alternate title sprang to mind: Samurai in the Outfield. Director Masaki Kobayashi despised corruption and tyranny of any kind, and in the Sixties joined fellow filmmakers such as Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Gosha, Eiichi Kudo, and Tadashi Imai in examining the cruelty and hypocrisy of Bushido (see: Harakiri, Samurai Rebellion). In this earlier feature, he explores similar themes in a slightly different context: the world of professional baseball—the bribery, the gifts, the favors, the layers of manipulation—in which cutthroat scouts treat prospective players as commodities rather than human beings, and one can never be entirely sure of who is using whom.
While the premise screams Kobayashi, the style doesn’t; the movie lacks, for example, the director’s bold camera movements, which in his later work suggests a sense of instability (ethical, psychological, etc.)—as though the characters might at any moment be tossed straight over the edge of the earth. Which is not to say I Will Buy You isn’t a visual feast; Kobayashi shows remarkable narrative control, breaking several scenes (including the climax) into multiple planes of action and favoring long, uninterrupted takes, creating a more naturalistic—almost Ozu-esque—pace.
If you only watch one Kobayashi film in your lifetime, I’d recommend Harakiri—but if that’s all you know him for, I Will Buy You is well worth checking out.