Shinobu Yaguchi’s 2004 comedy gem, Swing Girls is more or less a cross between High School Musical and School of Rock (before both of those were big things in the US) as well as a riff on the old “Hey kids, let’s put on a show!” style of old Hollywood film making from the days of Andy Hardy and a boatload of other fun fluff musicals. It’s a fun and summery family friendly flick where there’s nothing offensive happening, there’s not a single gunshot fired and the only death here is one that’s part of the plot and it’s not a human being that gets it. Yes, I’ll actually spoil things by running a clip below the jump just because it’s probably the best use of the Louis Armstrong version of “What a Wonderful World” you’ll ever see as well as the funniest bit in a film full of them.
The movie works so well because it’s full of deadpan moments and flat out funny portions where paying attention to dialog and visual detail add more laughs. It’s a film that’s not pretending to be anything other than a homage to those old musicals and while it’s not flawless, it’s definitely worth tracking down if you like movies that guaranteed you’ll get a grin going that lasts for about as long as you’re in front of that TV or monitor…
When a class full of bored remedial math students are recruited to deliver late arriving lunches to their school’s band at a baseball game, they muck that simple task up to an amazing level. Thanks to the 13 girls falling asleep and missing their stop, the band gets some really late lunches and a mean case of food poisoning that puts them out of commission. The only person unaffected is Nakamura, the bandleader (whose lunch was eaten on the train ride by the girls). Holding auditions for fast replacements the next day, he’s only able to scrape up a few interesting replacements, but forces the math class girls to join up and learn to play under threat of exposing their lunch delivery disaster.
Naturally, the new “recruits” are terrible students, save for one quiet gal who’s a whiz at the recorder. As the number of girls is too small to be a proper brass band, Nakamura decides to turn them into a swing band with the hope that the music will at least motivate them into practicing with more spirit. Despite some (well, many) issues, the new smaller band is slowly creaking along, but just as they’re a day away from playing at the next game, the formerly ill band arrives and takes over. The girls are initially happy to be free of the musical training, but no sooner than they’re booted out, they all burst into tears because they actually enjoyed the process of playing together.
During the next school semester, one of the girls decides to join the band, but sees another one of her summer school classmates and backs out. Still determined to learn how to play, she sells her computer and a bunch of other stuff that’s not hers to buy a beat-up saxophone from a used instrument shop. The other girls also decide to buy instruments, but all of them are broke and they decide to get part-time jobs in order to afford used gear. Let’s just say that after a decent start as supermarket workers, the gals end up fired and in need of more gainful employment. Somehow, mushroom picking ends up the chosen profession and during this, the best and funniest moment of the film happens:
Thanks to that, the gals get their money and can buy instruments, but even that goes wrong (you’ll see). From here, the film pretty much sticks to the old formula you’re probably expecting as they get a surprise (well, not such a surprise) teacher, there are a few revelations and the new band ends up entering a national contest that makes up the last section of the movie. Again, Yaguchi keeps things predictable and generally well paced throughout, dropping in an occasional surprise you don’t see coming or taking a moment you’d expect from a film such as this and turning it on its ear a bit.
As for the music, you can’t go wrong with big band jazz tunes at all and it’s a nice touch that all the actors had to learn how to play their instruments for the film. This gives them a more natural sound (flaws and all) that makes the film even more likable, but I will say the final band battle won’t really hit you over the head with any surprises. Still, as far as summer films go, this one goes down easy and is definitely worth watching a few times. I’d pair it up with Yaguchi’s fun Adrenaline Drive, a boy meets girl film with a nice punch thanks to a determined Yakuza out to reclaim a safe full of lost money from the two lead characters after they meet during a crazy chance encounter. Yes, it’s a comedy and a pretty damn good one I’m more than a little surprised hasn’t been turned into a Hollywood remake yet. Of course, I’ve just jinxed the film for good now, I’ll bet…