Back to films to recommend now. I have always had a secret love of those films that tell the stories of a group of people that succeed at some kind of group task despite the odds. British films that come to mind are “The Full Monty” and “Brassed Off”. And of course the guiltiest pleasure of all is the American “Bring It On”. However, for every good movie like this, there are ten awful ones.
These films all take the same basic idea. We follow a group of people who find rewards in undertaking an activity, often one quite alien to them, which enables them to rise of of the troubles of their everyday life. They are usually light comedies, populated with a straight-laced hero, surrounded by a number of misfits. Indeed, the film’s director, Shinobu Yaguchi, did it himself with his own “Waterboys”.
“Swing Girls” ticks all these boxes. We follow a group of disaffected Schoolgirls (not delinquents, but maybe underachievers), who through an extended mishap, have to take the place of the School Brass Band. They overcome numerous hurdles along the way, before eventually giving the obligatory virtuoso performance in the end.
So far so cliché I hear you say.
What I have not yet mentioned is the delightful charm of the film. The film is played fabulously by all the leads (special credit to the beautiful Juri Ueno who you might remember from “Summer Time Machine Blues” – I’ll link to myself here.). Each lead is unique, but only one is maybe a little overplayed (the geeky nerd Sekiguchi is possibly a little too comically rendered – but she does usually provide the key moment to push each crisis within the movie forward). Even if you are not a fan of Big Band Jazz (and I am not usually), I dare you not to have your foot tapping for half the film.
You might notice this is a film about Japanese Schoolgirls. Now your opinion might vary, but one of my favourite things about this film is that it does not fetishise the girls. Yes, they are all pretty, but never once does it slip into anything vaguely seedy. In fact, even the two potential love stories are only briefly hinted at, with looks and smiles. How unlike an American movie where it would be a major part of the crisis.
I understand they really did learn to play the instruments and gave the performances both within the film and at concerts to publicise the film. I don’t know how good or bad they are – but they certainly impressed me!
One and a half small criticisms. The girls seem to learn to actually play the instruments a little too easily. Their struggles are around actually forming the band, buying instruments and attending the eventual competition. Also, I do wonder if the actresses are putting on deliberately annoying voices – my knowledge of spoken Japanese is non-existent, so it is just a feeling I have.
There is a delightful twist (although I guess it would be obvious to those schooled in the structure of such films) where the discarded Math teacher turns out to be a Jazz Aficionado who actually gives them that ‘final’ push to succeed. The fact he cannot actually play music just makes it more wonderful.
There are some brilliant little scenes my favourite is when at one point the girls are picking mushrooms to raise money. We suddenly realise they are trespassing, and you think they are both going to get caught. Then it all changes, and we are suddenly in a cleverly filmed section where the girls somewhat fortuitously overcome a crop-destroying Wild Boar.
In short. This is an amazing film that I would recommend to anyone with any sense of enjoyment in their hearts. It has been a tough week at the Things Fall Apart Offices this week, and watching this film has raised my spirits incredibly.