By | January 11, 2014
Zack Davisson on January 11, 2014 at 3:49 am.
Director Shinobu Yaguchi does this genre particularly well, having previously made the boys synchronized swimming film “Waterboys” which was a huge hit in Japan and spawned a TV series. He uses essentially the same formula in “Swing Girls”, with enough twists to keep it fresh. His main selling point was that all the girls play their own instruments, although they couldn’t when filming began. Just like their characters, they master the jazz tunes over the course of the films, and it shows in their confidence and capabilities when playing.
The plot is simple enough to be charming. A ragtag group of misfit girls in a summer remedial math class accidentally give food poisoning to the entire brass band club when they deliver their lunches. The sole survivor, a boy named Nakamura, demands that they take over for the band in time to play for an upcoming baseball game. The gals all pick their instruments, and Nakamura puts them through their rigorous training. The regular brass band recovers just in time for the game, but by then the gals all have picked up the Jazz bug, and decide to keep their little band together and try out for a Winter competition. They recruit a conductor in the form of their math teacher Ozawa (played by the great Takenaka Naoto, who should and does appear in every single film in this genre), and hijinks ensue.
I really liked “Swing Girls”, as much as I enjoyed “Waterboys” and the other flicks in this genre. The ensemble cast keeps things going, without resorting to the usual “we like the same boy”-type of conflict that usually appears. There are no villains here, no bad guys to overcome, just a bunch of kids doing their best and having a good time, trying to accomplish something a little out of the ordinary but that they all have a passion for.
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Stephen Ressel on January 11, 2014 at 4:03 am.
However, my title doesn’t totally lie. This movie is universally described as a “zero-to-hero” film, and it certainly does have all the hallmarks of the typical genre stuff found over the past decades. Oddly enough, this film, like the better Japanese films, makes you think it’s one thing for the first 30 minutes, and then it slowly turns and turns and turns, and subtly you are introduced to a whole new aspect of the film, and the entire story isn’t really what you thought it was when it started out.
The dismal turns to beauty, the ugly becomes beautiful, and what was dreary is joyful.
Personally, I was enthralled by the cleverly encapsulating motive for the entire story: one man’s love of jazz and his desire for a woman. Swing Girls won’t bonk you on the head with how clever it is, but it certainly has it wrapped up pretty well. There are a few stylistic elements creating montage of story and time for economy on screen (hopefully forgiven by the audience) and there are a few minor gaps in story that could have been tightened, but in essence, this is a beautiful and potent film above mediocre and in timeless/world-class status.
For a western audience, it really doesn’t miss anything. Differences in culture might be odd, but they aren’t major story points (bento lunches, pachinko parlor, school uniforms, etc.). The writer/director pulled in a variety of passionate and romantic themes like food, music of varied genres, fashion, work, the wild, the seasons, and more, and he gave his film a transition and lush depth rarely found in films. The broad Japanese character acting my the youngsters is great: Our Gang meets 90210-backwoods. And in the end, it beautifully transitions characters from their rough, awkward, and lazy beginnings to a happy finish.
And then a 10 minute concert at the end pulling together all the characters and their story arcs. It’s truly a feel-good movie for the ages. Who would have thought Japan and Big Band could merge so nicely?? I loved it. Take a chance and watch it.
The DVD is from Thailand. For some reason this was never properly released in America. It won tons of awards abroad, but was never sieized on within America. English subtitles are adequate, but not perfect.
Andres C. Salama on January 11, 2014 at 4:29 am.
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