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Original Title:

Japan 2001


Shinobu Yaguchi

Satoshi Tsumabuki
Hiroshi Tamaki
Akifumi Miura
Koen Kondo
Takatoshi Kaneko
Aya Hirayama
Naoto Takenaka

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Story: The swimming team of Tadano High School has shrunken to only one member, the loser Suzuki (Satoshi Tsumabuki). Nevertheless, this all changes when goodlooking Mrs. Sakuma starts teaching at the boy-school. But when the meanwhile huge bunch of interested boys gets to know that the swimming team will be a synchronized swimming team, there are only left 5 of the members in Sakuma's team.
As Sakuma has to go because of an unexpected maternity leave, the team is on its own. They can't stand it anymore to be called losers by everyone and so they decide to build up a good show for the Tadano Festival. Their first presentation of their swimming capabilities becomes a catastrophe, though.
Yet, Suzuki and his four friends don't get disheartened. With the help of a dolphin trainer (Naoto Takenaka) they learn the basics and start to become better every day. Fully to the surprise of the trainer, who just taught them indirectly and without any intention to do so at all.
Suzuki's plan to "take over" the swimming pool at the festival becomes unnecessary as the team gets the attention of the local media. Now, the school is forced to let the swimming team perform at the festival, because of the strong demand of the audience. However, can the swimming team really put on a good show?

Review: "Waterboys" is a great addition of director Shinobu Yaguchi to the extraordinary humor of Japan. Fully put into action like an anime we get slapstick at its best which might feel strange for western audiences at first. But luckily there are also enough funny moments which can create a cultural bridge.
After "My Secret Cache" and "Adrenaline Drive" Yaguchi proves once more to have a sense for the right timing of gags and he doesn't fail to provide us with lots of crazy and exaggerated moments, that you will only find in a Japanese movie.

The plot of the movie is everything but original. A bunch of losers want to prove themselves in a type of sport and finally win back their self esteem. Well, storywise that's it. Fortunately, the director manages it give the well known story its own style. This starts with bringing the unusual sports of synchronized swimming into the game, and ends with the wacky characters. Some of those might feel like a little bit of a stereotype, but that seems to be necessary to give Yaguchi the fundament on which to build his typical humor.

Nevertheless, despite the one-dimensionality of some persons, the actors succeed in beeing convincing most of the time. As far as this is possible in a movie like this, natch...
However, especially the several grimaces and the body language give us some good laughs and so you can't blame anyone that he didn't do a great job. Besides, every character has his own personal five minutes in which to shine. The braggart with the afro-look (!), as the jumpy dolphin-trainer or the Karate-skilled girlfriend of Suzuki will have you crying out of laughing. The scene in which Suzuki's girlfriend flies through the picture, kicking the drinks machine to get a soda for Suzuki, is just typical for the exceptional humor of Japan.

Some critics have pointed out, that "Waterboys" is very homoerotic. Fact is, that it's not the same in Japan as it is in western countries. So, there is some hugging or play-brawling every now and then. It really has to be questioned if this is a sign of a "gay" movie. Except of one actual gay and some drag queens there is nothing to be found here to support this "criticism". Besides, these characters are also just some loony guys which the film is full of. Maybe it's just irritating for some men, that the actors are dressed in swimming trunks most of the time. Well, what do you expect of a movie about swimming? A coat and hat?

Apart from that, there are in fact some scenes that would have made me turn off the movie under normal circumstances. For instance, there is a scene in which the actors are dancing painfully awkward. Interestingly enough this scene just fits into the rest of the movie and doesn't feel that awkward at all. But then I guess, this is only possible in a Japanese movie. It's just the style and intention of the movie to be wacky and unpredictable. So the characters just have to appear as if they were pulled right out of a comic.
Director Shinobu Yaguchi does a fine job in providing the right pictures and camera angles, which were necessary for most of the gags to work. The music is also pretty fitting. So what else do you want?

Those who can't identifiy with the typical Japanese slapstick-humor will most likely find themselves scratching their heads, questioning their own sanity, because of some of the movie's scenes. For everyone else the movie will deliver some fine jokes, thanks to the perfect timing of the humor and the wacky performances of the actors.
Despite all that, "Waterboys" is a movie that is definitely above average, but which fails to present anything new, due to its predictable and well known story. If there wouldn't be this scene that should have rewritten comedy history...
Suzuki and his friends try to perform something for the first time, but the afro-hairdo of one of them starts to be engulfed in flames, another one looses his pants and the rest isn't that lucky neither.
The timing, the directional finesse, the slow-motion, the music, the gestures - everything fits in perfectly. I can't remember the last time a movie made me laugh that hard. And it doesn't get less funny the more you watch it - yeah, it's even enough to recall this scene to make you laugh again!

"Waterboys" along with "My Secret Cache" made me a fan of Shinobu Yaguchi, because his humor is just my cup of tea. The situational comedy and the perfect timing of the gags will make some viewers rolling on the floor laughing!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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