REVIEW: Waterboys (2001)

In an effort to impress their cute teacher, the boys of the swimming club promise to learn the seductive art of synchronized swimming.

By Raymond Arcega
Last updated on


Original Title: ウォーターボーイズ
Year: 2001
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Genre: Comedy, Sports
Director: Yaguchi Shinobu

Director Yaguchi Shinobu is a master of zero-to-hero films, and Waterboys is a testament to that. It’s often a debate among fans which film is better between this and its successor – Swing Girls. Both are films about misfits who enter a world they have no business being in in the first place. Both will make you laugh until your sides hurt. Both build up to a climactic performance in which the ensemble cast show what their training has taught them. And lastly, both will want you cheering for an encore.


Waterboys follows Suzuki (Tsumabuki Satoshi), the lone member of his all-boys high school’s swimming club. The club is in danger of being disbanded unless more students join. Thankfully, a young pretty new teacher, Mrs. Sakuma (Manabe Kaori), arrives at his school and is put in charge of the swimming club. Suddenly, the swimming club experiences a spike in membership, with boys from different clubs flocking to the cute Mrs. Sakuma.

But, a plot twist takes place, and Mrs. Sakuma reveals that her expertise actually lies in synchronized swimming. To appease their idol of a teacher, the boys take up the challenge to learn. But things become tougher (and more entertaining) when Mrs. Sakuma has to be hospitalized in preparation for giving birth, leaving the boys to learn on their own.


It’s entertaining watching the lead characters work their way from boys who know nothing about synchronized swimming to a group who looks like they have been performing together for a long time. In the beginning, everyone sucks at swimming. This includes Suzuki, the only veteran member of the swimming club, who would always place last in swim meets. But every underdog story is not without disaster before seeing triumph.

The boys’ endless trails and challenges all are met with smiles and laughs. One particularly memorable moment was led by a sketchy dolphin trainer (Takenaka Naoto) – who had no real intention of teaching the boys, but said he would to get free labor out of them. He dumps the boys off at a game center with some cash and forces them to play Dance Dance Revolution together to learn synchronization. Intending on escaping from them for good afterwards, his plan backfires when he runs out of gas, forcing him to return and ask for the money he lent them. He is surprised to find that the boys have already perfected a full dance routine and were performing it for onlookers.


The film’s comedy is crafted so that it isn’t overdone and can be appreciated by everyone. The small moments are just as hilarious as the big, like when the mob of new recruits were training while shouting “BRRRA” in an effort to show the cute teacher how gangster they were. Or Tamaki Hiroshi and the afro he sported for half of the film.

There is a tease of romance with the inclusion of Hirayama Aya‘s character Shizuko, a student from the neighboring all-girls high school. A tease of romance is fine, because it doesn’t derail the tempo of the film’s comedy, but still adds to the motivation Tsumabuki’s character. Of course, being a member of an all-boys synchronized swim team will make anyone embarrassed, especially a high school student. Tsumabuki’s hiding of his “double life” from his girlfriend Shizuko adds tension and awkward moments that make Waterboys‘s comedy golden.

That being said, unlike many comedies that derail into the realm of melodrama and tearjerking (like almost every Korean comedy), Waterboys never lets down. The film is lighthearted and heartwarming until the very end. The film also doesn’t completely center on its leader Suzuki, bet divides time between its other four lead males, who are as diverse as a motley crew should be.

From the get-go, the concept itself was comedy: boys doing synchronized swimming. With the magic of director Yaguchi, we have an underdog comedy that does excellent with its pacing, and does perfect with building up to a final performance that will leave your cheeks hurting from smiling. If there is one thing that guys should take away from this story, it’s that when it’s showtime, you bust your ass off and the ladies will love it.

Watch this film…

…if you need something fun and filled to the brim with laughter.

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.