Waterboys (2001) Movie Review

The Japanese film “Waterboys” is a mixture of “The Bad News Bears” and “The Full Monty,” in which misfits attempt to accomplish something they’re just not cut out for, and in which no one gives them a chance to succeed in. With “Monty” it was stripping, and with “Waterboys” it’s the exclusively women’s sport of synchronize swimming.

“Waterboys” is an extremely happy-go-lucky film with no mean bone in its body. There’s nothing very original about it except for its sport of choice, but what really sets the film apart from others in its genre is that it’s unabashedly silly and there’s very little (almost nonexistent) attempt at a serious plot.

The cast of “Waterboys” is 5 male high schoolers that are losers in everything they’ve tried. Suzuki is the ring leader, probably the most normal (which is not saying a lot) of the 5; there’s a math genius who is terrified of water; another boy has a childhood crush on one of the other 4 boys; there’s also a scrawny kid addicted to working out and Sato, a loudmouth with an Afro. (Yes, an Afro.) The boys are actually tricked into synchronize swimming by their new and very attractive female coach, who ends up dumping them for maternity leave soon after.

The story should end here, with our boys off the hook, but it turns out they don’t like being called losers and is determined to carry out the sport to the bitter end. This, of course, gets them nothing but more ridicule by their more masculine-minded peers. (Actually even the females ridicule them.)

From here, we are treated to the usual sets of misadventures and revelations inherent in these movies. There’s the first practice that turns disastrous (a very funny sequence), followed by the coming of an eccentric coach who has all the answers, and concluding with the boy’s eventual triumph in the form of acceptance by their detractors as well as newfound self-respect for themselves. There’s even a scene where the coach introduces synchronize swimming to a room full of boys, only to end up with just our 5 main actors (since the rest fled). This, of course, is a scene taken directly from “Cool Runnings,” a film about the first-ever Jamaican bobsled team. (If you haven’t seen the film and can’t figure out how the concept of a Jamaican bobsled team is funny, let me just say that there is no such thing as snow in Jamaica!)

After going into training, the boys end up patterning their routine after dolphins at a Japanese Sea World. It’s also at the water park that many comedic moments take place, including one boy’s attempt to resuscitate a dead dolphin by blowing into its hole, only he doesn’t know which is the right hole to blow into!

“Waterboys” is funny from beginning to end, and what’s most likeable about the film is just how happy-go-lucky it is. Writer/director Shinobu Yaguchi turns what might have been a slightly awkward movie about young boys cavorting in nothing but teeny-tiny swim briefs (for much of the film) into a fun and harmless experience.

Besides a pedestrian plot, the film sometimes mirrors “The Full Monty” perhaps just a little bit too closely. Although that doesn’t really matter, since as the saying goes, even the Ancient Greeks copied their myths from someone else. What sets the film apart is its comedic gags, everything from Sato’s burning Afro to Suzuki’s inability to tell his tough, karate-kicking girlfriend that he’s (gulp!) learning to be a synchronize swimmer. The boys’ first practice session, where Sato loses his Afro and another boy loses his briefs, is, in a word, hilarious.

See? Subtitled films can be funny.

Shinobu Yaguchi (director) / Shinobu Yaguchi (screenplay)
CAST: Hiroki Hoshino …. Hoshino
Makoto Ishihara …. Makoto
Yasushige Kanehara …. Kin-chan


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