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FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
Soh Yun-Huei
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Toh Hai Leong, Auteur
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The Seduction of Wong Kar Wai
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Chinese Ghosts
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Sex in Asian Cinema
Erotic Cinema of the Shaw Studios
Homosexuality in Chinese Films
My Left Eye Sees Creativity
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One League of Social Consciousness
Emerging Trends in East Asian Cinema
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Decline of Hong Kong Cinema before 1997
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Why Cinema is Important to Singapore
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   Waterboys  



 

Waterboys

Reviewed by Soh Yun-Huei

Director: Yaguchi Shinobu
Writing Credits: Yaguchi Shinobu
Cast: Tsumabuki Satoshi, Tamaki Hiroshi, Miura Akifumi. Manabe Kaori, Sugimoto Tetta, Kaneko Takatoshi
Genre: Comedy
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Year Released: 2001
Runtime: 90 min
Rating: *** (out of four stars)

Waterboys is an offbeat, lighthearted comedy that can only come from Japan. It is based on a standard sports theme (misfits/outcasts overcoming the odds to succeed at a particular sport) but puts a twist in the tale. In Waterboys, the protagonists are students from an all-boys high school, but the sport in question is synchronized swimming. The oddest thing about this movie is that it is actually based on a true story (although the amount of embellishment in this case is an unknown). There are no real surprises in Waterboys, but as a comedy it works well, and audiences who do not shy away from subtitles would find this to be a fun 90-minute romp that doesn’t tax the mind.

Tadano High School has never had a proper swim team. That is, until attractive new female teacher Sakuna (Manabe Kaori) decides to coach one. Unfortunately, the water sport she has in mind is slightly different from the mainstream, and the slew of students who rushed to sign up for the team all quit rather quickly. You see, Sakuna is thinking of setting up a male synchronized swimming team. Only five students remain on the team, and are horrified when they find out that Mrs. Sakuna is actually eight months pregnant without realizing it (!), and has gone on maternity leave to have the child. Before she leaves, however, she makes the team promise to perform at the Tadano Summer Festival.

The motley crew consisting of an insecure teen Suzuki (Tsumabuki Satoshi), a Maths nerd Ohta (Miura Akifumi), the clumsy Sato (Tamaki Hiroshi), the wimpy crybaby Sugita (Sugimoto Tetta) and the homosexual Saotome (Kaneko Takatoshi), are determined not to let their coach down, despite not knowing anything about synchronized swimming. Thus, they start to train for the Summer Festival, only to find the path strewn with obstacles. They have to find a place to practice, a person to train them, and also sell tickets for their performance. They chance upon an equally oddball dolphin trainer Isomura (Takenaka Naoto), who agrees to train them in exchange for odd jobbing at the local aquarium. Along the way, the team is assisted by equally offbeat characters, ranging from a couple of transvestites to the girls at the nearby all-girls high school. Suzuki also develops a relationship with the surprisingly macho Shizuko (Hirayama Aya), but is afraid to tell her that he is involved in synchronized swimming. The Summer Festival is fast approaching. Will the Waterboys be able to pull off their performance?

As comedies go, Waterboys is a pretty hilarious one. Rarely does a minute go by without a gag occurring onscreen, and although not every joke works, so many are thrown in the audience’s way that some are bound to leave you chortling. Also, most of the jokes are rather visual, so worries about not being able to understand the gags are unfounded. There is one priceless slow-mo moment with a burning Afro that, to me, was already worth the price of admission. It’s not all fun and games, however, as director/writer Yaguchi Shinobu also manages to work in the anxieties of growing up, including puppy love, homosexual leanings and the desire to feel acceptance from one’s peers.

Waterboys also concludes with a brilliantly choreographed synchronized swimming performance that is nothing short of spectacular, especially considering that it’s performed by an atypical swim team. Of course, Waterboys is not without its flaws - the actors tend to ham it up a bit too much (particularly guilty is Naoto’s extreme facial tics and bodily twitches), and much of the humour is without subtlety and pretty slapstick. However, the film is not one to be taken seriously, and as it is, Waterboys is a true crowd-pleaser. Audiences who are into cute guys should also be pleased by the presentation of the film. There are lots of teenage boys on parade with skimpy swimwear - if that’s your thang.

Final Word: No surprises in the tale, but audiences who are into comedies should find Waterboys a palatable offering.