Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"Swing Girls:" A Holiday Treat...

Here's the climactic performance from the 2004 comedy Swing Girls:

Swing Girls is the story of a group of Japanese high school students from Yamagata prefecture (think Arkansas) who discover a love for big band swing music. It's a simple feel-good flick with uncomplicated characters and neatly resolved dilemmas.

The guy with the Spock hair on piano is the rich kid with no self-confidence. At the movie's start he's the only one in the school brass band. He's a whiz on piano, but gets stuck playing cymbals, which fills him with despair. At the story's beginning he's too much of a wuss and too easily intimidated to stand up for himself or quit.

The drummer is the phlegmatic chubby girl who deals with disappointment by literally eating entire gallons of ice cream.

The lead trombonist is the shy, retiring nerd who proves to be the most musically-inclined of all the girls.

The middle aged balding guy bopping along in the back of the auditorium is the school's math teacher. He's a hardcore jazz enthusiast who eventually becomes the band's mentor... until it's discovered he has no musical ability whatsoever and is secretly taking Yamaha music classes where he's routinely browbeaten and bullied by a young child.

The bassist and rhythm guitarists are two punk rockers just looking "to make some noise" after their original band breaks up because their boyfriends turn out to be lovesick wimps.

The trumpeter is the cute, boy-crazy girl of the bunch. She has a toy mouse on her trumpet's bell because a fright from a real mouse enabled her to first hit that very high note at the end of her solo.

The two guys on lights are the punk rockers' disgraced boyfriends finally finding redemption.

Note when the crowd first begins clapping, they're clapping strictly on the beat. The young guy who shows them how to clap on the backbeat is the high school's band leader, who frequently verbally abuses Spock-hair but proves here he really knows his stuff as he gets the whole audience swinging.

The guy in the letterman's jacket is the school's king jock, whose personal philosophy reduces the world to various dichotomies. Here, he declares "There are two kinds of people in the world- those who swing and those who don't!" and decides to become one of the former.

The pretty young woman who joins the math teacher and says, "Jazz is cooler than I thought, neh?" is the school's music teacher. The math teacher has long nurtured a crush on her, anonymously gifting the music room with precious jazz albums despite the music teacher's disinterest and preference for classical music. Is romance about to blossom?

And the girl on saxophone is Tomoko, whose lazy scheme to get out of summer make-up math caused not only the school's brass band to come down with violent food poisoning during the high school baseball playoffs but also the formation of the Swing Girls (and a Boy) Jazz Band. During the film she does a lot of growing up.

This scene is notable not only because of its infectious, joyous energy but also because they're all actually playing the instruments. The audio is a little out of sync, but if you ever get a chance to watch the film itself you'll see what a difference it makes that they're not faking the notes- especially during the drum solo. Few things in movies make me crazier than when someone fakes playing their instrument and does so badly. What's even more amazing is, none of these people had ever played before learning specifically for this movie. They were so successful, they even went on a short tour and played dates in Japan and the United States to support the film's marketing campaign.

I recently watched video of one of their live performances and sadly, the trumpet girl was not able to hit that high note at the end of her solo although she gave it a mighty effort. Imagine the facial/lip muscles and lung-power it would take to actually produce that sound... so she shouldn't feel too down about it.

Now you know the context, so enjoy!

No comments: