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FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
Soh Yun-Huei
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   Swing Girls  



 

Swing Girls

Reviewed by 1. daface 2. Soh Yun-Huei 3. filmnut!

Director: Yaguchi Shinobu
Writing Credits: Yaguchi Junko, Yaguchi Shinobu
Cast: Hiraoka Yuta, Kanjiya Shihori, Kino Hana, Motokaryia Yuka
Genre: Drama
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Year Released: 2004

1. Review by daface

From the director of Waterboys comes a new drama-comedy Swing Girls, and I'm a happy camper. I mean, what can go wrong with combining Japanese Schoolgirls (drool?) and Jazz? Absolutely nothing!

The premise and narrative are formulaic for this kind of "feel good carpe diem" show. A bunch of misfits are thrown together by circumstance, to escape the dread of make-up Maths lessons during the holidays. They enrol (not voluntarily at first) to form a big band, face the great uphill task of finding funds for instruments, rehearsing and getting their act together, before ending it all with a cheery big bang.

But as always, it's the delivery that matters. And this show delivers at all fronts. From the many comedic and zany moments, to preaching "never give up", the story is breezy and the pacing comfortable. The main leads are rock solid good-lookers, while the supporting cast consists of quirky characters, like the rocker chicks (huh? in a jazz band?! watch to find out!), gangster-ish mechanic wimps, and a teacher-maestro wannabe, brings much laughter even though at times their characters might seem one-dimensional.

What works is definitely the chemistry among the cast. It seems, from the outtakes, that they had tremendous fun in making this film, and it shows in the end product.

One gripe you may have about this film is that the band, when they finally get their act together, always seem to play the same old piece, when you're craving for more. Well, that's what made the finale work, by building the expectation, then surpassing it - it's 15 minutes of pure musical splendor, and it really made me want to stand up from my seat and swing along. Too bad I didn't do that, because I know the entire audience might just join along with me!

So if you're feeling down, and somewhat bored, give this movie a go, and I'd guarantee, you'll be swinging and jazzing along when you emerge from the theater, craving for more.

[This review first appeared in A Nutshell Review http://anutshellreview.blogspot.com/ ]

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2. Review by Soh Yun-Huei
Rating: * * * (out of four stars)

Sometimes it’s not smart to fiddle around with a successful formula when it comes to movies, and director Shinobu Yaguchi seems to an advocate of this rule. His new movie Swing Girls, simply put, is a mildly modified version of the 2001 Waterboys, also directed by Yaguchi. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because Waterboys was a very entertaining and humourous piece of cinematic fluff. Swing Girls may not bring anything new to the genre (technically it belongs to the "misfit underdogs perform well in a sports" category, though there’s no real sport involved), but it’s one of the most entertaining films I have seen this 2005, and amidst a slew of middling movies released currently, stands as one of the better choices of late.

Swing Girls opens in the summer, where certain academically wayward students are forced to attend summer school in spite of the heat. They include Tomoko (Juri Ueno), who seems to have a really short attention span; Yoshie (Shihori Kanjiya), a rather vacuous man-crazy girl, the extremely shy Sekiguchi (Yuika Motokariya); and the Simply Weird (caps intentional) Tanaka (Toyoshima Yukari). The girls volunteer to deliver lunch to the school’s brass band, but ends up spoiling the food, causing almost the entire band to be hospitalized, with the exception of Nakamura (Yuta Hiroaka), a music nerd who’s stuck playing the cymbals and had planned to quit the band.

Nakamura discovers the girls’ part in the band’s hospitalization, and blackmails them into filling in for the band. However, due to the lack of numbers, Nakamura hits on the idea of creating a swing band instead of a full brass band. The girls are initially resistant to the idea, but soon they really start to get into the act. Unfortunately the brass band recovers just before their first performance, and it seems like the swing band will be disbanded. That is, until Tomoko hits upon the idea of starting their own band outside of school. Not only do the girls (and boy) gradually improve, they even manage to find a mentor in their quirky Maths tutor Ozawa (Naoto Takenaka). The Swing Girls (and a Boy) have heart, but can they really swing?

What I really like about Swing Girls is that it’s a very "pure" movie – there’s nothing that distracts from the central theme, no forced romance between Nakamura and Tomoko, no evil rival to compete against, and no soppy melodrama involving family members. It’s about swing, and it’s about the trials and tribulations of a band, and that’s all there is to it, which is not a bad thing, because then all the screen time is devoted to what audiences would be most interested in. In fact, the film is so focused that the final reel is basically footage of the Swing Girls in concert, and yet still remains riveting enough from start to end.

Although the cast is never really taxed in their thespian skills (though they all had to learn the instruments they were playing), they are bubbly and cheerful enough to make light of any acting inadequacies that arise – after all, good acting is not a prerequisite in films like these. It also helps that most of the attempts at humor work quite well, none more memorable than a scene that involves Tanaka, a tub of Haagen Dazs, a skirt and a bewildered cyclist. It’s destined to be an instant classic scene, and for me was the defining moment of Swing Girls. The music is also a plus point – the swing music is very catchy, and it’s hard not to get swept along with the upbeat tunes. Pretty much the same can be said of the entire movie – it’s virtually impossible to hate Swing Girls, and most audiences will walk away from the film with a satisfied grin on their faces. .

Final Word: Entertaining from start to end, and definitely ranks as one of the best crowd pleasers of late.

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3. Review by filmnut!
Overall rating: A-

I was thoroughly entertained by this lighthearted comedy! In fact, I have to say, in terms of entertainment factor alone, this film rates highly on that scale.

The plot of the film is simple: A motley crew of musically untalented schoolgirls with the 'losers' tag on them defeats the odds to become a huge success. You have seen this underdog syndrome before in other Japanese movies such as Sumo Do, Sumo Don't.

However, despite the film's predictable path, the story still manages to engage us as the chemistry between the actors is excellent. The Japanese schoolgirls exude their typical cheekiness and charm (yeah, I think Japanese girls are cute, OK?) without exaggerating the 'kawaii' factor into something mushy and overbearing. My two favorite members among the girls has to be Tomoko, the natural leader of the group with a gift for being independent and strong on her opinions and ideas, and Sekiguchi, the reserved, bespectacled member of the band who shows us the it is always the quiet one who is the most misunderstood.

What I also liked about the film is the nerdy maths teacher who turns out to be something rather unexpected (Trying not to give away spoilers here). The film could have revealed him as a reclusive mentor cum potential 'savior and genius' in hiding but he turned out to be an ironical opposite of the aficionado he seemed to be. Thus, he presented us with two false first impressions. He was clearly in the same position as the newbie jazz band.

Most of the comedic moments are rather light but there are some truly hilarious moments including one which involves a bicycle. The boar sequence was probably a homage to the comic or manga scenes, with its characteristic depictions of characters in some form of action stance, complete with hilarious snots from the nose. Ahahaaa.

The musical numbers come into strength in the last third of the film when the band discovers their musical touch and improvisation. Although rather abundant in style and quality, the musical cues still left me wanting for a bit more. Perhaps that could be seen as a plus point in the film as it has managed to steal your heart and left you hoping for a rendezvous with them again.

Strengths
Great chemistry among the actors
Nice comedic moments
Musical cues

Weaknesses
Predictable storyline but told with lots of fun