I’ve fallen a week behind on my beloved Ping Pong, so I’ll try to keep this one quick!
This week, the first couple scenes of the episode described virtually everything ping pong has done for both Wenge and Kazama. We began with Wenge on the hilltop, in a scene that directly mirrored his first post-defeat chat with his coach. Same music, same framing, same plane in the distance. But of course, this time, everything has changed – Wenge’s comments are not based in fear on what will happen to him, but admiration for the opponent he inspired. In the distance, his teammates wait, awkwardly awaiting their chance to cheer him up. Wenge laughs at this, and apologizes to his coach – this time, it is he who must leave, to follow the path he has chosen for himself. For Wenge, defeat has opened his world, and this is reflected in the visual fundamentals of this scene – open sky, distant horizon, and friends awaiting his company.
In contrast, the next scene shows us Kazama in his usual pre-game bathroom ritual. As Kazama stands silent, the players outside gossip on Wenge’s loss, and prophecy stormy seas for Kaio ahead. For Kazama, ping pong has become a cage – he sees victory as his only route to respect, and both his demeanor and the framing of this scene demonstrate that. He stoops over in his stall, his body almost too big for the dark room he has consigned himself to. To him, ping pong is a closed door, and though he can reflect on his father’s envy of the bird in flight, he himself is defined more by his fear of falling.
Sakuma knows this, and his visit to Kazama is based in sympathy for his situation. Like Wenge, defeat has set Sakuma free – he knows now that ping pong is not the only route to defining himself, and his awkward small talk with Kazama dances around this knowledge. He mentions the difficult game Kazama’s teammate is facing, and Kazama coldly replies “If you want to win, you have to put in the effort.” Sakuma is not surprised to hear Kazama say something so simplistic – it plays straight to the fundamentals of what makes Kazama who he is. He has to believe that the failings of others are based on something as definable and surpassable as a lack of effort – he has to believe that this system of judgment is meaningful, and that ping pong can demonstrate his value as a person. As the other players lose and realize they are more than ping pong, Kazama stands alone in his stall, staring silently down at his purple ping pong shoes.