Sunday, July 12, 2009
Girls Meet Jazz in SWING GIRLS!
Shinobu Yaguchi's terrific 2004 film スウィングガールズ, aka Swing Girls (That's the Korean poster above) instantly became one of my favorite movies before I was even quarter way through watching it. It's a simple little film that wins you over with it's upbeat tone, physical comedy, and the absolutely charming cast headed up by the delightful actress Juri Ueno.
Swing Girls is the story about a high school student named Tomoko and her summer school classmates. Tomoko lacks direction and the motivation to complete anything she begins. Her friends are pretty much the same, with minds set on materialism and karaoke.
None of them want to spend their summer trapped in math class, and through chance, (and largely due their slack efforts) the girls happen into being pressed to form a band by fellow male student Takuo. Takuo is tired of being in a marching band, and wants to play some swingin' jazz...
Along the way an epiphany comes to Tomoko and the girls. They realize they love jazz music, and when their services are no longer required, the void left behind becomes something to motivate them. And so the Swing Girls are born...
From here on it's pretty familiar movie territory. Our underdog girls struggle to polish their craft and hone their group into a tight jazz unit. An unlikely mentor tenatively approaches them, and helps instill the heart and soul that the band needs to finally break through to their potential. Naturally the girls set their eyes on a major concert event, and work hard to get on the bill...
I'm not exactly giving away anything revelatory here. Yaguchi's film doesn't have any interest in breaking new ground and you can pretty much guess how this story plays out. What you do have is a movie that is so wonderfully endearing and good-hearted that you can't help but be taken in and captivated. The cast is completely likable and has you cheering them on to succeed and come out on top.
The film is beautifully shot and the details on the screen are rich and colorful. The other thing that makes this film work so well is the comedy, mostly physical and often visually hilarious. Swing Girls is a winner all around, and it's a nice break from much of the considerably darker material that's out there in Japanese cinema.
Of course if you're going to have a movie with a band, you need music, and that's where the film really gets impressive. Director Shinobu Yaguchi is well-known for his commitment to realism and accuracy in his films. All of his movies are preceded with through research and training where needed.
Every single girl in this film actually learned to play the instruments they used in the film, and by time the movie was finished, they were a true swing band in every sense of the word. When the Swing Girls perform in this film, every note you hear came from them.
This film was a such a huge hit in Japan, that the Swing Girls (and boy) were brought together to perform a few live concerts, which they delivered with the same joy and enthusiasm you see it the film. C'mon, how cool it that?
Trailer for Swing Girls here.
A news story about the film here.
More concert footage here!