It's another film from Shinobu Yaguchi, the chap who made Waterboys
and Happy Flight. This one's basically Waterboys
II, except with girls playing big band jazz instead of boys doing synchronised swimming. Waterboys
is the better film, but there's not a huge amount in it and Swing Girls is still a lot of fun too.
Comparatively speaking, what lets it down is its third act. There's some contrived jeopardy which soon melts away like summer snow, then the girls play music. This is fun. It's nice to listen to music. However it doesn't have the "you guys are nuts" factor of something like Waterboys
or The Full Monty and as a climax it's not particularly dramatic. I'm not saying it's bad, just that you'll have seen better. However that said there's still a lot to enjoy here, with Yaguchi giving a solo to all the main characters, adding some fun visual twiddles and choosing a better tune every time the girls play something new. I wouldn't have objected if the audience hadn't been so quick in getting so carried away, mind you.
Incidentally is it just me, or is the music not as great as I'd expected? I liked it, but it didn't blow me out of my seat. Maybe I'd been expecting too much given that music is the whole point of the film, but somehow I have a feeling that this soundtrack album wouldn't get as much play as something like The Commitments or even, bizarrely, Oppai Volleyball
However while we're talking about the music, there's one truly impressive thing about what's here. None of the music here was dubbed. The cast all played their own instruments, which in most cases meant spending five months learning how to play them from scratch at Yamaha Music School. To prove that they'd all been doing it for real, they even released a live CD and did concert tours in Japan and America afterwards. That you've got to respect.
Apart from all that, everything about the film is lovely.
I love the cast. Yaguchi has again picked youngsters with screen presence, working well both individually and as a herd, and then directed the living daylights out of them. They're really lively and would put lots of older actors to shame, always being completely in the moment and giving us lots of vivid reactions. Juri Ueno does some awesome facial expressions, for instance. Again the characterisation from Yaguchi's script isn't particularly deep, but you've got more than enough personality from the actors to make up for it. In all seriousness, I'd happily watch this film for its acting and I wouldn't be talking about the adults, even though they're all good too. Of the youngsters, most of the main characters had done a bit of screen acting before this, but only Ueno had already been embarked on what you'd call a career. She'll have a future in this business. Yukari Toyoshima unfortunately won't, but that's only because she's not beautiful and willow-thin and I thought she did an excellent job too. My favourite character though was that of Yuika Motokariya, who's playing an adorable bespectacled girl who's both shy and really keen. If you watch this film and don't fall in love with her a little, you're broken inside.
Naoto Takenaka shows up in nearly the same role he played in Waterboys
, by the way. I like him. He's always full of energy, like a little Japanese goblin.
The story's pretty much what you think it is. What brings the comedy is the fact that the Swing Girls themselves are such layabouts. They're lazy, stupid slackers whose first achievement of the movie is to poison the school band. It wasn't deliberate of course, but that just makes it funnier. Juri Ueno is the worst big sister in the world, while a good two-thirds of them are bimbos who can't lay their hands on money without immediately blowing it on make-up, bags and shoes. They're never so bad that you stop wanting to watch them, but they're certainly enough of a rabble that it's a minor miracle whenever they manage to avoid a disaster. (This is a rare occurrence.)
There's also no real romance, for which I thank my lucky stars. The girls aren't unaware of boys, in their hare-brained occasional way, but it's just not that kind of film.
This isn't a deep film. It wasn't meant to be discussed at length and I'm not even going to try. Instead it's simply fun, with a cast I could watch all day and a story that doesn't really add up to very much. It also has strong accents, with everyone talking a dialect from Yamagata prefecture. Personally I'm not surprised that Waterboys
is the film that got multiple spin-off TV series while Swing Girls didn't, but on the other hand the Waterboys
finale is goofier and there are people out there who don't think that's a good thing. If nothing else, this film won Yaguchi the Best Screenplay award at the 2005 Yokohama Film Festival. It's not a must-watch, but it'll put a smile on your face.