In Japan, high school table tennis players are treated with the same reverence that Americans reserve for football stars: Girls want to date them; boys want to be them. The exception is Tsukimoto, the hero of Fumihiko Sori's Ping Pong. Glum and stooped, he always lets his arrogant friend Peco win at Ping-Pong, until one day a coach spots his talent and he begins to care about the game. The film vividly portrays the obsessive landscape of Japanese table tennis, but the endless ping . . . pong of that teeny ball bouncing over that teeny net gets tiresome, especially in slo-mo. Ping Pong does win points for peculiarity: Tsukimoto is withdrawn to the point of autistic, while Peco is ebullient to the point of insane. Both boys, though weird, are totally lovable, and Sori should have concentrated on their story instead of struggling to depict the inner lives of five players and four coaches on three teams. Still, the film projects a sense of loopy joy that comes from being young and playing the only game that matters.
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