Swing Girls (2004)

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swing girls poster

Swing Girls follows a group of high school girls (and one boy) on their way to forming a Big Band style jazz orchestra. Because of an incident putting the school’s band in traction, this group of misfits must discover the secret to jazz by finding their groove. Helmed by Waterboys director Shinobu Yaguchi, this tale of outsiders uniting through effort and comedy may seem familiar, but just how predictable is it in truth?

Led by the very funny and charismatic Juri Ueno, this group of students suffer multiple misadventures in their effort to play music, finding a love and beauty in their journey. This film is one of those somewhat quirky Japanese comedies but is accessible enough for most audiences. With winning performances, the film is genuinely heartfelt and greatly entertaining. Naota Takenaka also gives a great performance as the students’ teacher. Overall, this ensemble is well put together and the chemistry between those on screen is undeniable. The film looks to have been a blast to make and this transitions well to the screen.

The film has a bit of an odd sense of humor, but nothing that frequent watchers of Japanese comedy would find unfamiliar. With a great eye for comedy Yaguchi’s film is well shot and photographed. Scenes are allowed to develop and many jokes are spot on and hilarious. A scene featuring Louie Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” is beautiful in its simplicity and effective in its comedy.

The premise of the film is related to music and the film really does sink or swim based on its portrayal and use in the film. From a group of literal losers who play ABSOLUTELY terribly, into a group that is willing and able to play in competition. There is a real progression that can be seen in the film as opposed to the commonly used montage in movies. A number of jazz standards are easily picked out in the film despite how well or poorly they are played. The. Song selection is wonderful and the final performance and act is both toe-tapping and smile inducing.

Swing Girls is, in my opinion, one of the best Japanese comedies in years. It is warm, funny, and hugely entertaining. Shinobu Yaguchi is a director that I try to follow without fail. His films offer a warmness and genuine humor that is always something with which I look forward. Swing Girls may be his best film amongst a filmography that I adore, it is certainly my favorite and one of my favorite Japanese films period.

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Long time film lover and occasional writer. I watch anything and everything though I have massive love for the works of Shunji Iwai, Jackie Chan, Johnnie To, and Kinji Fukasaku. POP! POP!

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