The First Slam Dunk
MOVIE | Anime basketball film makes up for minor missteps with deft animation and weighty storyline
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➤ Rated PG-13
An anime film about a Japanese basketball game released in nearly 600 U.S. theaters? Talk about a half-court heave. The First Slam Dunk grossed $150 million prior to its U.S. opening, though 99 percent of revenue came from three anime-loving Asian countries. But American viewers who are game for a nontraditional basketball movie might enjoy director Takehiko Inoue’s artistic masterpiece. Despite some technical fouls—mistranslations and numerous expletives—the film towers above Space Jam 2 and the like.
The First Slam Dunk encompasses a single game between reigning high school national champions Sannoh and the underdogs Shohoku. Flashbacks to Shohoku point guard Ryota Miyagi’s formative years punctuate the contest. His father and older brother have died, and the grieving Ryota must face teen miseries alone: bullying at school, doubts about his skills, and his mother’s depression.
Minor production foibles don’t detract much. The English subtitles mistranslate several basketball-related terms, such as “breaching” (instead of breaking) a full-court press. And it’s sometimes difficult to tell if a player is talking to himself (which happens a lot) or to another player.
Anime is choppy, and some viewers may find it an unsatisfying medium for conveying sports action. But the film beautifully illustrates the human body in motion, and it deftly depicts basketball’s intricate maneuvers—dribbling behind the back, the follow-through, and defensive footwork.
The vivid soundtrack isolates lapping waves and players’ heavy breathing. It swells with crunchy electric guitars and evaporates into complete silence, complementing the tumult of both the game and Ryota’s life.