The First Slam Dunk

Japanese manga artist Takehiko Inoue brings his much-loved Slam Dunk to the screen. The results are a blend of heartfelt drama and knuckleheaded sports movie

Film Review by Jamie Dunn | 17 Aug 2023
  • The First Slam Dunk
Film title: The First Slam Dunk
Director: Takehiko Inoue
Starring: Voices of Syugo Nakamura, Jun Kasama, Shinichiro Kamio, Subaru Kimura
Release date: 1 Sep
Certificate: TBC

Prepare for whiplash in the basketball drama The First Slam Dunk, and not just from the hyperkinetic editing of the action on court. There’s a rather jarring mix of animation styles, which skip from flashbacks rendered in beautiful hand-drawn animation to a cruder computer-generated style set in the present day. We can only assume this is intentional, but the effect is like watching two movies smushed together – one, a beautifully tender story of grief and heartbreak, the other a meat-headed sports movie.

The First Slam Dunk is based on the epic 31-volume manga Slam Dunk created by Takehiko Inoue, who also directs here, and his approach to structure doesn’t favour people coming to his story afresh. The film’s two-hour runtime is concerned with a big high-school basketball game between underdogs Shohoku and elite team Sannoh. Inoue then begins to drip-feed us character information, sporadically cutting away from the three-pointers, trash talking and bone-crunching injuries to show us the players as children and what brought them to this moment. It’s a novel technique that’s not always successful. Because we don’t initially know the players or why this game is so crucial, it’s hard to get invested in the outcome, and by sporadically leaving the high-octane match for a gentler human story, the tension is continually being deflated. 

The film is certainly resonating with audiences, though; it's been a juggernaut hit in Japan. I suspect, however, your enjoyment of The First Slam Dunk might be dependent on your familiarity with Inoue’s manga.

Released 1 Sep by Anime Ltd; certificate TBC
The First Slam Dunk screens at EIFF on 22 & 23 Aug