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DOC TALK

Doc Talk: Playing ball, dying too soon, capturing the moment

A scene from “Koshien: Japan's Field of Dreams”Ovid.tv

Is it too soon to think about baseball? For the obsessed Japanese high school athletes and coaches in Ema Ryan Yamazaki’s “Koshien: Japan’s Field of Dreams” (2019), the season never ends.

Their goal is to participate in the Koshien, the annual high school tournament named after the stadium where it takes place, a field that has seen such MLB greats as Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, and this year’s American League Most Valuable Player, Shohei Ohtani. In the 1998 competition future Red Sox ace Daisuke Matsuzaka would throw 250 pitches to win a 17-inning game. The next day he would close out another victory by pitching the ninth inning.

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It is a contest of superheroes, but also of teamwork, brought about by a system of regimentation, including harsh drills, peer pressure, shaved heads, and constant criticism from draconian coaches.

Over 4,000 high schools participate in the event, and tradition requires that the weeping losers gather a bag of soil from the field to take home with them so they can always remember the pain of their loss.

From “Koshien: Japan's Field of Dreams”Ovid.tv

Yamazaki focuses on the 100th Koshien tournament, in 2018, and on Tetsuya Mizutani, coach of the Yokohama Hayato team. Mizutani is old school and harkens back to when the sport was regarded by the Japanese as a form of martial arts. The coach who had inspired his philosophy had been a kamikaze pilot who somehow survived. Mizutani takes this gung-ho attitude to heart and his dream is to win the centennial competition.

Mizutani’s son is about to begin high school; and the father doesn’t want to coach him, because he thinks he might be tempted to favoritism. So he sends him to the distant Iwate Prefecture, where Hanamaki Higashi, Mizutani’s protégé and former assistant, coaches a team that has enjoyed more success than his mentor’s. Higashi has softened Mizutani’s approach in his own style. He likens coaching to gardening, explaining how developing players is like nurturing bonsai trees — if the restraining wires are not removed in time the tree will wilt or die.

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The two coaches and teams are microcosms of the old and new Japan. But the passion for a sport, the pain of defeat, and the elation of victory are feelings that can be recognized everywhere.

“Koshien: Japan’s Field of Dreams” can be streamed at OVID.tv, beginning Dec. 3. Go to search.ovid.tv/cart/coming_soon.

Andy Ostroy and Adrienne Shelly, in "Adrienne"Andy Ostroy/HBO

A dream cut short

For many the face of the late ‘80s-early ‘90s new wave of independent cinema was elfin Adrienne Shelly, Hal Hartley’s muse in “The Unbelievable Truth” (1989) and “Trust” (1990).

Dissatisfied with playing the ingenue, Shelly began making her own films. First shorts, then features, which were sometimes cruelly reviewed by male critics unable or unwilling to appreciate her sardonic, feminist sensibility. But with her bittersweet, quirky comedy, “Waitress” (2007), she found her audience. The film was accepted at Sundance, but she never saw it there. On Nov. 1, 2006, she was found dead in her Manhattan office, hanging from a shower fixture. Police surmised she had killed herself. She was 40.

As her husband, Andy Ostroy, shows in “Adrienne,” his tough, heartbreaking documentary, she did have moments of depression. But he says there was no way she would have committed suicide. She had a beautiful 2-year-old daughter, a lauded film, and a brilliant future. He was determined to uncover the truth, which is part of what motivated the film. But more than filming an investigation into the crime (his persistence paid off and the police found the killer), he wanted to commemorate Shelly’s achievements during her too-brief life.

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Adrienne Shelly with her daughter, Sophie, from "Adrienne."Andy Ostroy/HBO

To that end he interviews her bereft colleagues, including Hartley, Paul Rudd, and Jeremy Sisto. In the opening scene, he interviews people in line for tickets to the blockbuster Broadway musical based on “Waitress” and asks them if they know who Adrienne Shelly was.

Nobody does. He wants to change that.

Perhaps most important, though, he wants to reconcile himself and his daughter to their loss. And come to terms with the person who deprived the world of Adrienne Shelly — her killer. He visits him in prison, asks him why he did it. It was a robbery gone wrong, the contrite prisoner explains. Then Ostroy shows the murderer pictures of his wife and their daughter and the meeting is over.

There is no closure. There are only the people, and the art Shelly has left behind.

“Adrienne” can be seen on HBO and also be streamed on HBO Max. Go to www.hbo.com/movies/adrienne.

Ricky Powell in "Ricky Powell: The Individualist."Courtesy of SHOWTIME

Pictures at an exhibition

In a synchronistic moment in Josh Swade’s “Ricky Powell: The Individualist,” the hip-hop street photographer of the title bumps into the high fashion street photographer Bill Cunningham (featured in Richard Press’s 2010 film “Bill Cunningham New York”) and says hello. Then he vanishes into the partying throng.

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Unlike Cunningham, Powell did not try to merge into the background when taking pictures. He was part of the scene from the mid-’80s into the early 2000s — partying and schmoozing with the likes of the Beastie Boys and Run-DMC and Fab 5 Freddy. He caught off-the-cuff images of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat outside a gallery opening, Cindy Crawford in a nightclub bathroom, a bum sleeping on a park bench. They were images that captured the ephemeral essence of an era.

But the times passed him by. People like Laurence Fishburne still rap with him on the street but when the film was shot (Powell died earlier this year, at 59, of heart failure) he looked like that bum on the bench. The once whippet-thin, stylishly disheveled, wise-ass “Rickster” behind the lens has grown a potbelly and unsightly white sideburns (“It’s my Isaac Asimov look,” he explains to his disapproving, even more eccentric mother) and smokes a lot of dope. He lives like a hoarder in a tiny studio apartment on East Fourth Street overflowing with garbage, sneakers, baseball caps, magazines, weird knickknacks, and countless slides and photos. A cultural treasure trove, it is recognized as such by a guy who became his immensely patient assistant and who pulled it all together into a book that would prove the capstone of Powell’s career and a time capsule of a turning point of American culture.

He was the Rickster once again. At the end of the film he sinks a layup, celebrates, and then his pants fall down.

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“Ricky Powell: The Individualist” debuts Dec. 10 at 8 p.m. on Showtime. Also available On Demand. Go to sho.com/titles/3507177/ricky-powell-the-individualist.

Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.