Spoiler alert: this post has nothing to do with ukuleles, but if you're interested in Japan, Jazz, and Japanese culture, read on.
I just finished watching Swing Girls, a 2004 Japanese film staring Ueno Juri. I really enjoyed it, even if there weren't any ukuleles. Swing Girls is what would happen if the Bad News Bears met your local jazz band. Predictable, but fun.
The movie is set in Yamakawa High School in Yamagata Prefecture, deep in the northern backwaters of Japan. The girls are in remedial math class for the summer when they learn that the school's brass band has been sent off to play for the school baseball team without the customary bento boxes for lunch. The girls offer to deliver them so as to get out of class for the afternoon. They miss their train stop, have to walk back, fall in the mud, and manage to give the band food poisoning before they are roped into becoming the new band. Because there aren't enough of them to form a full band, after hearing a recording of Glen Miller's Moonlight Serenade they decide to become a jazz band. Reasonable, right?
The girls face many obstacles, not the least of which is their complete and utter lack of musical training. But they persist. They manage to find a band director, conveniently their former math teacher, who despite his love of jazz and his own desire to play an instrument, is a total failure. At about that time the original band recuperates from their bout of food poisoning and resumes their duty cheering on the baseball team.
Undeterred and now in love with jazz, the girls continue studying and eventually become good enough to enter a regional high school musical competition. Predictably, the forces of nature, their own self-doubt, and any number of minor disasters conspire against them but in the end they prevail.
At about 16:30 in the above clip the girls make their debut at the regionals. I dare you to not smile when they launch into Louis Prima's Sing, Sing, Sing.
Everyone loves rooting for the underdog, especially the Japanese. Perseverance must be genetically encoded in Japanese DNA because they like nothing more than coming up against long odds. It really doesn't matter if they win or lose. It's persevering that matters most.
Maybe that's why Japanese love the much maligned ukulele. Nothing says perseverance so well as a uke!
1) Only one of the 17 actresses who became the Swing Girls had any musical chops. They all learned their instruments well enough to at least play convincingly and after the movie was released held their "First and Last Concert" at the Tokyo JAL hotel in late December, 2004!
2) My Japanese is pretty good, but combine the heavy Tohoku dialect, teenage slang, and pouty girl-talk and I was often lost.
3) In reading some of the PR from the time the movie was released I learned the catch phrase was: 「ジャズやるべ」which translates roughly to "Let's do some jazz y'all!". Understand my problem now?
I'm glad I persevered!
I'm an amateur ukulele player who happens to be fluent in Japanese. I hope that I can inspire you to learn more about the ukulele, Japan, or better yet, BOTH!