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Original Title:
Swing Girls

Japan 2004

Comedy, Music

Shinobu Yaguchi

Juri Ueno
Yuta Hiraoka
Shihori Kanjiya
Yuika Motokariya
Naoto Takenaka
Miho Shiraishi
Eriko Watanabe
Kei Tani
Mizuta Fumiko

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Swing Girls

Story: After the group that cheers the baseball school-team is hospitalized because of food poisoning, the school is without a music band. Nakamura (Yuta Hiraoka), who is the only one of the group that has been spared, is desperately looking for musicians, now, although he himself did have the intention to leave the band. It doesn't take long to find some volunteers. Tomoko (Juri Ueno), Yoshie (Shihori Kanjiya), Sekiguchi (Yuika Motokariya) and several other schoolgirls finally see an opportunity to be able to flee the math-lesson of Ozawa (Naoto Takenaka).
Nakamura makes a Jazz Big Band out of the mixed bunch of girls. Just when the girls begin enjoying making music, the original members of the band are discharged from hospital. The Big Band breaks up and the girls even pretend to be happy about it.
However, not long after the group eventually reunites, because their common interest for music did become stronger and stronger. After school, they assiduously exercise, but they fail to have success.
This changes when their math teacher Ozawa takes care of them. With his help the newly formed "Swing Girls" even make it to a music contest. But is the band really ready for something like this?

Review: Japanese schoolgirls forming a Jazz Big Band!? No big deal for director Shinobu Yaguchi ("Waterboys")! With a lot of heart and above all else a special kind of humor he creates a very nice, even though meaningless comedy that charms the viewer. Who cares about the predictability of the plot, which is build upon the premise of so many other sport- and musicmovies. An unsuccessful group wants to prove themselves and at the end manages to do so in a certain kind of sport. Actually, Yaguchi did even take his own story of "Waterboys", replaced the synchronized swimming with Jazz, the boys with girls and there we go. Surprisingly, the viewer doesn't feel cheated, because "Swing Girls" has its very own style and pleases the audience with loveable characters and its great humor.

Since there isn't much to make out of the story, the focus has to be on the characters. These are in fact one of the movie's strengths. A little bit wacky, but always loveable the viewer can instantly weave a bond to them. The individual characters all emanate an incredible sort of charisma, which makes the movie work so good. I'm in fact talking about charisma and not good looks, even though without a doubt this also applies to most of the female actors, too. No, it's the actors' charm that make the movie so enjoyable. So we aren't even bothered that except of Tomoko we nearly don't get to see anything of the private life of the different persons. We merely accompany them on their road of hopefully becoming a successful Big Band, of course getting a lot to laugh about along the way, too.
Unfortunately, there aren't any big laughs to be found as one would have wished for. Which doesn't mean, that the movie doesn't provide any good gags. Even if there is a little lean period concerning the jokes, the movie manages to create a feel-good atmosphere, that will turn any mood into a positive one, no matter how depressive you've been before.

Concerning the cast, the actors are very well choosen. Interesting side note: Most of the actresses couldn't play any instrument and did take an intensive course only a few months before shooting. Actually, it doesn't sound like that when hearing the great musical performance of the group, who actually played all the instruments live, not being dubbed afterwards.
About the music: Music lovers will definitely have more fun, than those who are not, but interestingly the fact that the music style is Jazz/Swing isn't any musical barrier at all! For me Swing is one of the last ones on my list of listenable music genres. That's also the reason why I watched this movie with a mixed bag of feelings. Luckily, this changes rapidly after hearing the first piece. Thanks to a good song compilation the music is gripping and will provide you with a good mood, even if you can't make any use of the music! Maybe that's because there is always something humorous when Japanese girls in school uniforms perform Jazz/Swing music?
Whatever, the music is very well done and adds a lot to the movie's fun factor. Naturally, the highlight is a 15-minutes long concert at the end of the movie.
Another interesting side note: In order to promote the movie the actors/actresses even gave some concerts in Japan and America!

Well, there are also some negative aspects to be found. As already mentioned the plot is incredibly predictable and yet some things are missing, like the evil rival. On the other hand it's nice to see that the love story between Nakamura and Tomoko is only subtly instilled, avoiding any unnecessary cheesiness.
At first, it might be difficult to keep track of the mass of different characters, but pretty soon we know that Tomoko and the small clique around her are the persons the film will focus on until the end for most of the time. However, one shouldn't expect anything spectacular of the ending, because it sadly is somewhat disappointing. Despite the big concert there just seems to be missing something and the sudden ending credits take us by surprise.

Even though the movie has a running time of 105 minutes, "Swing Girls" feels a little bit short, which is a good sign. Yaguchi knows how to win the audience over for his movie. Lighthearted and entertaining he creates a world, which one enters with joy knowing to have some fun for a while.
Apart from some nice camera work and tricks, of which the wild boar running, which comiclike is completely shown in single frames, while "What a wonderful World" from Louis Armstrong is to be heard in the background, is surely the highlight of the film, the movie can also convince the critic in technical aspects.

"Swing when you're winning" hasn't been only Robbie Williams' motto. Director Shinobu Yaguchi creates a wonderful feel-good movie, that scores with lots of humor and good music. Too bad, that the story can't keep up with the amazingly loveable characters. Anyway, that doesn't change the fact that "Swing Girls" is extremely entertaining, making it a definitive recommendation!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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