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May 18, 2006

Swing Girls


Shinobu Yaguchi - 2004
AG Entertainment Region 0 DVD

I've read a couple of articles pointing out to the decline of interest in foreign language films both by audiences and film distributors here in the U.S. I know that some of my interest in foreign films was from encouragement from my parents. I forgot how old I was when I saw The Red Balloon, but I grew up with an awareness that there were some interesting films, usually coming from France, Italy or Japan. I don't have children of my own but I have tried to plant seeds in my young neice by sending her DVDs of Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast and Miyazaki's Kiki's Delivery Service. While I don't know the best way of resolving this issue on a larger scale, I do know that future audiences for world cinema need to be encouraged.

Would U.S. high school students be interested in seeing a film about Japanese kids? I don't know. What I do know is that Swing Girls is a very accessable film that could be a great icebreaker given the chance.

I had seen Shinobu Yaguchi's Adrenaline Drive about five years ago. Swing Girls is much less frenetic. The film begins with a scene of high school girls, generally distracted, sitting in summer school classes. The effort to deliver lunches to the school band gets undone when the lunches are delivered late and spoiled, causing the band members to get sick. A half-hearted effort by the girls to form a swing band that summer turns into a more serious effort during the school year. The girls are bratty to their parents, teachers and each other, yet find a bond of greater value than designer clothing or immature boyfriends. Of interest is that the girls actually learned to play their own instruments for the film and toured following the release of Swing Girls.

Except for a scene of the girls attacted by a wild boar, shot as a parody of action films with the action frozen while the camera moves around the characters, stylistic flourishes are kept to a minimum. The humor is mostly friendly with scenes of old musical instruments falling apart in the hands of the girls, a scene of a snow fight, and a shot of the girls rushing from railroad tracks to muddy rice fields when they realize a train is right behind them are indicative of this kind of non-aggressive comedy. The recent American films I've seen about high school kids had stories about murder, sex, hate crimes and such. Not to deny that particular reality, but one gets the feeling that it's the only one that Hollywood thinks exists, or that audiences want to see. Swing Girls may not be the truest portrait of Japanese youth, but it allows the girls to be smart and dumb, but mostly show kids actually enjoying their lives.

Posted by peter at May 18, 2006 06:22 PM


Though it might not be for the same age group, I think Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totor succeeds wonderfully at portraying kids how they often are, without dipping into the sordid.

I'm not sure if high school kids would identify with that film at all, but I think they might. Others that leap to mind: Au Revoir Les Enfants, If...., The Devil's Backbone. Still not all in the right age group, though.

Do you suppose kids in high school think other kids are really so different across the world? I ask because I really don't know. I find human behavior I recognize in almost every film I see, regardless of where it's from, but I don't know how it is for others.

Posted by: Tuwa at May 18, 2006 08:03 PM

I share your feelings, Tuwa. What is a challenge is how to encourage more people, especially younger people to see films from other countries. By having a some kind of sense of people outside of the U.S., we can break down some of the xenophobia that informs much of American culture and discourse.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at May 19, 2006 08:25 PM

Where can I get 'Swing Girls" on Region 1 DVD?

Posted by: Gregory at January 27, 2007 10:38 AM