Review by Leonard Norwitz
Theatrical: Altamira Pictures
Video: Toho (Toei Video)
Disc Size: 38,781,973,736 bytes
Feature Size: 36,924,143,616 bytes
Average Bitrate: 46.98 Mbps
Case: Custom Blu-ray case
Release date: October 24th, 2008
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video
LPCM Audio Japanese 4608 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 4608 kbps /
Dolby TrueHD Audio Japanese 2197 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 2197
kbps / 16-bit (AC3 Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps)
English, Japanese, none
• Teasers & Trailers for Swing Girls and Happy Flight - in
It may be about life in Japan, but it's not Ozu; and it may
be about slacker high school students, but it's not
Batttle Royale. No, it's Shinobu Yaguchi returning to
the scene of the crime to exploit another collection of
slackers who find their way from a pointless existence to
meaning and fame. In 2000, it was Waterboys where
16- and 17-year old boys with little more than girls on
their minds find meaning in the most unlikely water sport –
not coincidentally, one generally reserved for the other
sex. And now, four years later, it's Swing Girls
where at Yamakawa High School, a dozen or so girls whose
idea of happiness is checking themselves out in the mirror,
discover swing music and start a band, not coincidentally,
where girls normally fear to show their faces.
It's make-up summer school, where our collection of vacant
girls applies their make up and stare vacantly out the
window during their make up math class. Their teacher, Mr.
Ozawa (Naoto Takenaka in a similar role as he had in
Waterboys), is almost as bored as the girls. In any
case everyone suffers from the heat. Outside, the school
band prepares to board the bus for the baseball game in a
distant town. So as not to be late, they leave without
their lunches, which arrive only minutes after the bus
departs. The girls, led by Tomoko (Juri Ueno), get the
bright idea to persuade their teacher to let them take the
lunches to the game – school spirit and all that – thus
killing the proverbial two birds with one stone.
Needless to say the girls can't resist at least one of the
meals, and they fall asleep as their train passes through
their stop. So they get off at the next stop and walk back
through the heat. They manage to get to the game, and the
band gets their lunches – all but one – the only one that
doesn't get violently sick from the spoiled food – there's a
lesson in here somewhere about eating sushi. This leaves
the school without a band for the foreseeable future.
Takuo (Yuta Hiraoka), the one boy who didn't get sick feels
it's his responsibility to organize a substitute band at
least for the next game. The girls, for their part, feel
more a duty to get out of class than a sense of obligation
to make up for their carelessness, and try out for the band,
even though not one of them can play. And do they suck!
And they can't blow either – not a note. It's all they can
do to get into shape to find their wind. But just as they
have a rehearsal where the vaguest impressions of "Take the
A Train" waft through the air, the original band recovers,
and the girls get the wind knocked out of their sails
This is where Mr. Ozawa takes the stage. It is soon
discovered that he's a jazz aficionado, and the girls coax
him into being their mentor, which he reluctantly accepts.
Reluctantly, because it is his secret that he really can't
play any instrument – and that his knowledge of music comes
entirely from his record collection, which he conducts
furiously in the privacy of his living room. What he lacks
in knowledge, however, he makes up for in infectious
enthusiasm. With unspoken echoes of Harold Hill's "Think
Method" the girls eventually come to believe they're good
enough to enter a battle of the band festival to pay off the
cost of their instruments.
A magical feat in its own right, Swing Girls, for all
its fluff and nonsense and absence of sex, is infectious,
charming, engaging and, occasionally demonstrative of actual
movie making technique – as when an LP falls out of its
sleeve and rolls down the hallway, connecting the girls to
their destiny. There's very little character development as
such, and it all ends abruptly, yet somehow we are taken
in. In large measure this is due to the fact that we are
convinced that girls are actually learning to play as the
movie goes along. The sound doesn't appear to be looped, so
what we see and hear is what there is. Thankfully, just as
we've had about all we can take of the "A Train" about to
derail, the girls find their way through "Moonlight
Serenade" and "Sing Sing Sing" at the Festival. Makes you
want to revisit Hollywood Hotel to listen to Goodman
and Krupa tear into it. The girls aren't half bad.
NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence
compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale.
The second number places this image along the full range of
DVD and Blu-ray discs.
Entirely serviceable as it is unremarkable, the image is
defect-free and without noticeable glaring artifacts or
enhancements. The color is natural, yet rich, with good
skin tones. The brass instruments are properly golden or
dull as per their age. The feature is dual-layered with a
soaring bitrate leading me to believe this is a strong and
accurate representation of the theatrical visuals.
CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION
Audio & Music: 8/9
The surrounds come into play during the rehearsals and at
the festival concert. This where we can judge just how
faithful the audio rendering is. We should be able to hear
a progression from monstrously out of tune, to very closely
in tune, but still not professional – and we do. The
ambience of each venue is sorted out nicely. There are two
lossless mixes. I found the Linear PCM 5.1 marginally more
satisfying, but both were lacking in low mid-range body. I
think it's a Japanese preference.
The BIG plus here is the packaging. This is how Blu-rays
should have been offered in the first place – not those
chintzy plastic affairs, but a solid, simple book that opens
to an easily removable disc. Major kudos. The menu is in
Japanese and partly in English – the part that isn't is the
Index of extra features, which all turn out to be promos and
trailers. English subtitles are only on the feature film.
Curiously, what we would call "scenes" or "chapters" they
call "Bonus Tracks".
Sadly there is nothing about the making of the movie nor
anything about how the girls learned to play. I feel this
seriously devalues the set, given its price.
I would have given this Blu-ray an unqualified Thumbs Up if
it weren't for the absence of a supportive bonus feature of
any kind about the movie.
March 16th, 2009