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"No suit stuffing going on here!"

It's swim time: The eponymous Waterboys
  Japanese: ウォーターボーイズ
  Year: 2001    
  Director: Shinobu Yaguchi    
  Cast: Naoto Takenaka, Aya Hirayama, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Hiroshi Tamaki, Akifumi Miura, Koen Kondo  
The Skinny: Fluffy, entertaining summer popcorn flick. It demands absolutely nothing from you, and delivers laughs with ease. Naoto Takenaka is a riot, and the kids hold their own.
by LunaSea:

Ever wondered why sometimes you just can't help but like a film? It may be goofy, with stereotypical characters and absurd situations. It may have limited character development and the story be rather banal, but you still like it a lot. If you wanted to be seriously critical you could say the plot of this film has many holes (i.e., how do the swimmers end up performing so well?), and calling the characters caricatures would be generous. Still, Waterboys is lovely and irresistible, for the simple reason that it achieves something the majority of today's comedies don't: it's actually a lot of fun.

The film is based on a real story: the success of the Kawagoe High School Male Synchronized Swimming Team that made some noise in the news during 1999. The team behind the hit Shall We Dance? and director Shinobu Yaguchi (who directed the successful comedy Adrenaline Drive) got together and auditioned hundreds of young actors requiring only good looks and the ability to swim. The end result was five major characters who weren't too original, but together formed quite a group. Our heroes are a former basketball player with a giant afro who failed to make the school's team (Sato), the classic geek who uses math for just about everything (Kanazawa), the fitness obsessed muscle-boy (Ohta) who is often spotted training in hilarious ways, the classic shy fellow who's gay and loves one of the other boys, and the cute leader who gets the girl at the end (Suzuki).

How could what looked like such a bland film at first glance become so funny and entertaining? The film works simply because both the director and the actors treat the material as summer popcorn fluff, and don't try to include some ridiculous melodrama or half-assed social commentary. Sure, you can find something deeper in the concept of teamwork producing success, and there are a few hints of the strict and extremely competitive world of Japanese High Schools, but don't expect anything too ambitious. The film focuses on one comic skit after another and it's successful just doing that. It also has a weird charm that makes the characters interesting, which may very well be Yaguchi's merit more than the actors' performances.

The most interesting character is certainly the trainer Isomura, who at first tricks the guys into believing he'd train the team (using them as a workforce instead), but at the end grows interested in them and actually helps. The hilarious performance by Naoto Takenaka (of Shall we Dance? fame) makes his character a little more than the cardboard caricature you'd expect, and also prevents the film from dragging during its slower middle portion. Of course the young boys are the main focus of the film, and they fit the bill nicely. They don't achieve anything particularly inspiring, but at least they look and act like teenagers. These aren't twenty-something year-old popstars pretending to be insecure virginal teenagers.

Yaguchi directs with a light touch, allowing the film to flow extremely well and rarely allowing things to drag. He's not always trying to make you laugh and also not resorting to emotional manipulation. In someone else's hands, this conventional script could have been a failure, but Yaguchi knows how to handle this kind of film (like he showed in the past) and Waterboys never insults your intelligence trying to pull strings it shouldn't. Another strong positive is that the film isn't full of malice like the teen comedies that populate Hollywood, where every joke leads to sex and the act is portrayed as dirty or like a game.

The film ends with an exhilarating final performance that's creative and extremely funny. This is a perfect film to watch with a few friends over a pizza and some beers. It isn't great cinema, but it doesn't really try to be. Like the hugely successful Korean hit My Sassy Girl, the film triggers the right reactions because of its spontaneity, and doesn't indulge in over-melodramatic scenes or contrived comedy. This is how commercial comedies should be done. (LunaSea 2002)

  Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Winson Entertainment
Japanese Language Tracks
English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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 Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen