I guess you know the drill by now for a typical Japanese zero to hero story, and while it's easy to lump this together with Waterboys, this one plays it serious and is pretty much devoid of humour. However it is no pushover in its drama, and its role in elevating the sport itself, given ample opportunity to explain its basic 101 diving principles to any rookie. Watching this for its spectacular dives is pretty much akin to watching it on a television sports channel, but of course the actors here make their characters more endearing as they battle their own personal demons.
While there's scope for rivalry and friendship, ultimately the story touches on personal struggles, and the strength that the characters find from one another as they battle their way to the pinnacle of the sport. And like all individual sports, it gets lonelier as you approach the top, wanting desperately to meet a challenger who can spar with you and give you a run for your money, and the achievement whether be it for personal glory, or the survivability of the flock. It also deals with motivation and the love for the sport, and newbies won't feel alienated as you're given ample coaching lessons on the different patterns and system of scoring.
Based on a novel by Eto Mori, the story has three male protagonist, who are actually crafted to cover an entire spectrum so as to provide some broad-based appeal. In one corner, you have the perfect diving athlete Yoichi Fujitani (Sosuke Ikematsu), of pedigree stock and carrying the weight of the entire diving club because he's the best. The coach (Ken Mitsuishi) also happens to be his father, who treats him more like protege than a son, and despite the introduction of new female coach Kayoko (Asaka Seto), the weight on his shoulders is no less when she introduces a newcomer Shibuki Okitsu (Junpei Mizobata).
Shibuki represents the other end of the spectrum, the rogue-like unorthodox challenger who doesn't seem to stick by the rules, and plays the game his way. Of pedigree as well since his grandfather represented Japan in the Olympics, his wild attitude also comes from an upbringing and honing of his craft not in stagnated pools, but from leaping off natural cliffs into the sea. He's aloof and seems to be a ticking time bomb that only Kayoko could reach out to and diffuse. A wildcard of the team, he brings about a real challenge to Yoichi, as well as aspiring to live up to his family name.
And rounding off the trio is Kento Hayashi's timid, unpolished gem Tomoki Sakai. I've seen one other Hayashi movie before in Love Fight back at the Tokyo International Film Festival last year, and he too played a similar type of character, one with no innate talent, who has to rely on pure hard work, grit and determination to see him through his challenges. I suppose he continues to excel in such a role given his rather slender physique, though in this film he's rather toned. He represents the common man who has no proud ancestry to boast about or to live up to, and is just about your average Joe who makes the best use of opportunities that come his way, despite petty, childish setbacks and sacrifices to be made.
Technically, Dive!! boasts of such excellent camera work, in large part due to the sweeping shots of the platforms, divers and the landscape around them. Then again, given all actors aren't professional divers, I guess the most they can achieve through their acting skills, is to convince you that they're the real deal, through the striking of believable poses that they're just about to execute some mean looking twists and mid-air somersaults before hitting the water cleanly. Camera angles play a key role here in ensuring the stunt / professional divers don't have their real faces exposed, and editing ensures the right cuts made, all the time.
Expect the usual training montage to take place as well, and while you're likely to stay one step ahead throughout the narrative in predicting accurately just what will happen, since it doesn't offer any surprises after spelling out the motivation and goals of each character, director Naoto Kumazawa still manages to instill some sense of excitement during competitive dives, even though you're fully aware of the movie magic that's going on all around. Except for the final dive which I felt was a little over the top in trying to get its message across, to the point of bordering on the ridiculous.
Nonetheless Dive!! is still an entertaining crowd pleaser, and I guess it'll put many in envious mode as the girls get to ogle at cute looking boys going about their thing with determination and drive, while the guys will wonder whether it's time to hit the gym to get those washboard stomachs!