“The First Slam Dunk” is a great basketball movie because it understands what’s great about basketball. When a character catches a pass, drives toward the paint, steps back, squares up and releases a clutch 3-pointer, the movie slows time, drops the sound and homes in on exactly the right detail — the perfect, crystalline swish of the ball passing through the basket and gently grazing the net.

Bringing all of the kinetic, over-the-top style of Japanese anime to bear on the granular, technical athleticism of high school ball, “The First Slam Dunk” is a one-of-a-kind sports drama somewhere between “Hoop Dreams” and “Dragon Ball Z.” You’d expect a movie with that title to have some pretty spectacular jams, and you’d be right. What surprised and delighted this N.B.A. obsessive is that it dazzles just as much with passes and rebounding. This feels like real basketball.

Based on the long-running and beloved Weekly Shonen Jump manga “Slam Dunk,” and written and directed by the manga’s writer and illustrator, Takehiko Inoue, “The First Slam Dunk” centers on the starting lineup of the Shohoku High School basketball team as it competes for the national championship. The entirety of the film’s two-hour run time takes place over the course of this one game, broken up by flashbacks that give insight into the lives of the players, including the troubled point guard Ryota (Shugo Nakamura) and the self-centered power forward Hanamichi (Subaru Kimura).

The flashbacks are well-written and add off-the-court dramatic interest, but it’s the basketball action that is the movie’s claim to excellence. Expertly staged and beautifully rendered using a combination of computer-generated imagery and traditional hand-drawn animation, it’s often so spectacular that I am eager to watch again.

The First Slam Dunk
Rated PG-13 for mild language and some dark themes. In Japanese, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 4 minutes. In theaters.


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