REVIEW: Swing Girls (2004)

By accidentally poisoning the school band, Tomoko and her friends are forced to take up horns, and they inadvertently discover their love for jazz music.

By Raymond Arcega
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Swing Girls

Original Title: スウィングガールズ
Year: 2004
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Genre: Comedy, Musical
Director: Yaguchi Shinobu

Swing Girls is a must-see for any and all fans of music. The film combines elements of a music film with those of a zero-to-hero story. The main characters are all zeroes when they first pick up their instruments for the first time, and evolve into heroes that can make those horns sing.


The story follows lazy high school student Tomoko (Ueno Juri) who, with her friends, discover their love for jazz music. They stumble upon it by accidentally causing the entire school band to get sick. Forced to take responsibility for their actions by the only healthy member Takuo (Hiraoka Yuta), they unwillingly take up horns and start learning how to play in the band’s place.

However, the school band take their horns back after regaining their health. However, Tomoko and her friends find themselves empty without the playing of their instruments, and embark on a fundraising journey to buy horns of their own.

In addition to centering on music, the story also shines a spotlight on youth and friendship. The portrayal of carefree students by the young actors sets the mood for this fun, feel-good film. The characters have a strong sense of camaraderie that builds throughout the course of the story. This is portrayed the best with the two leads Tomoko and Takuo, who start off the film hating each other’s guts, but gradually build a strong bond because of their mutual love for music.


The story is very light-hearted and filled with perfectly-timed jokes that will make anyone smile, all accented by the actors’ usage of the local Yamagata prefecture dialect. The icing on the cake is how everyone’s diverse characters and personalities blend together in this parfait of fun. The audience will no doubt choose a character as their favorite and watch their hilarious antics and their interactions with the rest of the cast.

Director Yaguchi Shinobu made sure to make the music in the film was 100% genuine. This wasn’t done by hiring the best jazz orchestra, but by training the actual actors to play the music themselves. They trained intensively with their respective instruments for months prior to shooting. So every rim shot and every high note will have a feeling of authenticity.


The music selections featured in the film are classics by jazz, swing, and big band musicians, such as Glenn Miller and Ken Woodman. A song that everyone is sure to know, “Sing Sing Sing”, is also featured and will make one want to get on their feet and start dancing.

Director Yaguchi is no stranger to directing these kinds of largely cast, heartwarming zero-to-hero films, as we have seen with his 2001 hit Waterboys. Swing Girls was definitely created with a similar formula in mind, and it’s often debated upon to this day which film is better.


Any musicians who watch the film will have the sudden urge to pick up their instruments and start jamming. If you don’t play an instrument, don’t be surprised if you suddenly get inspired to start learning the saxophone. The film is a feel-good film in every way, avoiding ell opportunities for tearjerking in exchange for laughter.

There is one phrase that resonates well with the film, said by one onlooking high school student: “There are two people in this world: those who swing, and those who don’t.”

So, which are you?

Watch this film…

…if you are a music lover and have the need to start tapping your feet

About the Author

Raymond Arcega


Follow Ray on Twitter and chat with a fellow cinema nut. He also tweets about tokusatsu, assorted geekery, and life and adventures in Japanland.