Swing Girls

Reviewed by: sukting

December 22, 2009

Rating: three-point-five

How long
2 hours

It is about a group of high school girls forming their own jazz band. Will they be successful in the end?


A class of 13 girls is attending a remedial math class organized by a boring teacher named Ozawa (Naoto Takenaka). One of the students, Tomoko (Juri Ueno) looks outside the window to see the school's brass band. Nakamura (Yuta Hiraoka) plans to give his teacher (Issei Takahashi) a "quitting the band" slip but fails. The brass band leaves to perform to cheer for a baseball game at the stadium.

Minutes later, a lunch truck arrives. It is here to send food for the brass band. The driver is late for another catering. Tomoko wants to skip the math class and decides to deliver the lunches with the others for him. Tomoko the girls eat a lunch. They walk to the stadium by foot to save cost.

They meet Nakamura at the stadium and pass out the lunches. When they finish, Nakamura demands to know where his lunch is. Tomoko says she doesn't know, but Nakamura is wise while Tomoko is dumb. Nakamura discovers a spec of rice on her chin. He says nothing and he buys his own lunch elsewhere after the girls leave. As he eats, his band members feel sick after the lunch.

The lunch boxes have turned bad in the summer heat due to the girls' delay. All with their teacher are hospitalized. Tomoko watches the horrible event on the news and is terrified. The next day, hoping for a miracle, Nakamura holds an audition for new recruits. He decides not to let his school down. He gets two punk rockers whose band breaks up and a shy but bright girl named Sekiguchi (Yuika Motokariya) who only knows how to play the recorder.

He considers the punk rockers’ dressing outrageous. He is taken aback by Sekiguchi, though. She is the very nerdy type to wear glasses. He has not expected her to like band music. This number is not enough. Nakamura is desperate but his mood changes when he hears the Tomoko and the other girls telling the truth outside. His desperation turns to rage and tells them to replace his band members. They try to refuse but Nakamura threatens to tell Ozawa. So the girls reluctantly agree.

The girls do not prepare playing the instruments seriously except for Sekiguchi. Nakamura is getting no control over them as they rebel against him until Sekiguchi finds some big band records. One rolls down the hall into the hands of the school's star baseball player who hates Nakamura. When being scolded, Nakamura realizes that he can turn the girls into a big band instead of a brass band. This is to avoid a beating by the player and because they have so many people short.

He also realises that teaching brass band instruments to 16 inexperienced girls is tough. Moreover, they must be ready for the game next week. Nakamura is aware that everyone relies on him. If he quits, he will let his band members down and the baseball player will not let him off. So he tears up the slip.

Nakamura teaches them to improve their lung strength. He brings them outdoors. All can’t keep up with his pace, except for Sekiguchi, who can relate traffic light sounds to the tempo. Tomoko has disagreements with Nakamura but she realizes that in order to escape trouble, she must get along with him. As much as she tries to argue with him, she ends up siding him as he is always right.

On the day before the game, all 42 brass band members are back to take over again after this discharge. Everyone except Sekiguchi is eager to break away. But once the girls are back home, they cry as they realize that they like playing in a big band.

Tomoko passes by the band room the band room and discovers that Nakamura isn’t there. The band teacher tells her that he has quit. The band teacher offers Tomoko a chance to play. She stops upon seeing Sekiguchi. She recalls how badly she treats her earlier and feels guilty so she leaves.

A while later, all the girls discuss on how to get money to buy new instruments. They wish to set up their own band and consults Nakamura. They want to break the tradition by playing modern pieces. Although Nakamura's family is rich, he can’t help because he is afraid his parents will punish him. So they decide to get jobs. He warns them not to get second hand instruments but they will not listen.

The girls work at a supermarket. Everything goes fine but 6 of them spend their earnings on designer clothes. They run away with the school's baseball player for dates, leaving the 10 girls and a small amount of money to continue the band on their own.

The rest of the girls need money as they have spent on partying. So they decide to pick mushrooms in the mountains with Sekiguchi’s help. They realize that there is a trespassing fine and the forest rangers are approaching them. They try to escape, but a hungry boar attacks them and goes for the plump Naomi(Yukari Toyashima).

She climbs up a tree to escape the boar but falls down onto the boar's head. The boar's skull is cracked and is killed. Their fate is turned around when they are rewarded a huge sum of money for killing a crop-killing boar. The photo is taken with Naomi still eyeing on the plastic bag of mushrooms tied to a tree!

They go to a second hand shop. Tomoko buys a used sax which the sound is lousy while Yoshie (Shihori Kanjiya)’s drums has a hole where a rat runs out to frighten them. The others also turn out to be broken and old. Nakamura shakes his head over this. The punk rockers take them to the junkyard to ask their ex-boyfriends for help. The guys are eager to get them back so they help to fix them. The girls start playing but their skills are terrible even after performing at a few places.

Sekiguchi meets a man after one of their failed gigs to get help as she hears him mumbling comments. The others run after him but he goes too fast. They follow him to his house and peek through his window. His house has everything on band music. The man sits down to play the sax and all are speechless to see that he is the math teacher Ozawa. He sees their refection in his mirror.

He invites them in reluctantly. All are impressed on his knowledge on the singers. He starts to teach them how to play jazz. He isn’t against the jazz band but is against them skipping his class. After knowing his passion for music, they view him in a different light and begin to attend his class seriously.

The girls pluck up their courage to play in public again. They even play in front of the supermarket they are fired from as Tomoko has burned a pan accidentally. The other girls who have left the band see this. They are touched so they sell away their designer clothes to buy instruments to rejoin the band. So the 16 girls are back again as a team.

Tomoko learns about a winter music festival where they can prove their ability. All agree to go and convince Ozawa to conduct. He reluctantly agrees and the next day they record the audition tape. Nakamura senses something amiss on Ozawa’s reaction but doesn’t think much about it.

Tomoko is in charge of sending the tape but she sends in late as she is very forgetful. Still, she thinks that they will still get a positive reply as there are always not enough teams to perform yearly. She gets a reply saying that due to overwhelming response, the number has reached. So they are rejected. Crushed, Tomoko decides not to tell anyone in fear that it will disappoint them.

Nakamura has a hair cut and sees Ozawa behaving suspiciously across the street. All will be amused that he asks for the same dork boring hairstyle that we see. He tails him and discovers that Ozawa is not a professional sax player. He is privately taking lessons and is scolded by the teacher for having zero instinct in music. Nakamura is stunned and Ozawa is equally appalled to see him standing outside.
Ozawa confessed that he is a terrible sax player as a kid can do better than him. He only learns to play to impress the school's music teacher. He makes Nakamura promise that he will never tell anyone. He also decides to back out of conducting. Nakamura keeps mum about the secret but he is shattered as the rest. The girls push him to do conducting as well.

On the train ride to the festival, Tomoko sits alone in another cabin. Nakamura goes over to cheer her up, noticing that she is too quiet. While the others think it is a confession of love, Nakamura can tell that she did not send the tape on time. She does not have the heart to tell anyone so Nakamura tells them for her. They curse and swear at her. The train stops due to rapid snowfall and a tree lands on the track.
The girls are badly affected. While listening to a radio, the girls play along and they feel better. The school's band teacher finds them and rushes them by her bus to the auditorium. She is here to inform them the good news. They have a spot since another band cannot make it due to the snow. It is too good to be true and they become tense. They rush onto the stage just as the announcer declares they will not attend, causing the audience much amusement.

Why? They trip and look so disorderly on stage, still with their coats on. Nakamura has to calm their nerves to help them to get ready. Once he stands in front of them, all are prepared. They play a 15-minute segment. Ozuwa comes in to conduct from the back of the hall silently. The band teacher is pleased that the girls play so well. The punk rockers' boyfriends try to get them to notice them. At the end, they win the competition and burst into tears. They have proved themselves to be as good as the school team.
Interesting facts

The movie won seven prizes at the 2005 Japanese Academy Awards, including 'Most Popular Film' and 'Newcomer of the Year' awards for Yuta Hiraoka and Juri Ueno. The film was based on an actual girls' jazz band. The young actresses actually played their own instruments. They knew nothing about music when filming began, just like the characters they play. So that was real.

I first watched it at Asian Civilization Museum in Singapore. I enjoyed watching it so when it was shown twice over Singapore TV again, I watched them without fail.


The film is undoubtedly helping us to swing. ‘Check it out, yo!’ pales in comparison as the story is undeveloped to dwell on teen romance and it is centred only on 3 members. As for this one, the forming of a band is very complicated as it involves many instruments. All movements must synchronise or the performance will be ruined.

The girls are plain but when they play the instruments, they dazzle in the light as they are also capable of tossing their instruments in the air. Due to the misadventure, the swing girls (with the exception of a boy who is their leader) form a band.

The four girls are distinctive from the rest due to their differing personalities. Yet, they work well as a team. There is a good sense of humour involved when we see how they struggle not just with the toning of skills but also with the monetary issue of buying the instruments. At first, most do not treat it seriously as they take it that they owe Nakamura a big favour.

They discover their joy when they find the correct rhythm. We grow along with the girls. They work hard to start the band, practise and also to perform in front of a crowd. They start to find music in their daily lives even after school. Nakamura has opened their ears and eyes to music. Yuta is excellent as the only thorn among the roses. Nakamura is mild-mannered and timid. But when it comes to the part of him knowing the truth, his tone becomes so serious that no one can rebut him.

He is not requesting them to help but is demanding them to listen to him. That gives them no choice but to obey him. He can’t outtalk the girls most of the time. Yet it comes to music training, he becomes so firm that all of them have to follow his command. He is initially taking a backseat but is then forced to take up leadership post. Every member changes after the training under his guidance.

The movie is fast paced and other movies on dances or singing will be hard to match up to its standard as it is brilliantly done. As what the movie has stated. When we have a dream, we should try our best to achieve it. Nothing is impossible. The actresses (and an actor) have proved this fact.

Sukting’s ratings :

On acting : ***1/2 (Scale of 5)

On story : ***1/2 (Scale of 5)

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