Based on a true story
Twelve years ago, members of the swimming team at Kawagoe High School, a boy's prep school in Kawagoe City, Saitama Prefecture, dreamed up an unusual event for their school festival: "men's synchronized swimming." Inspired by the popular Olympic synchronized swimming exhibitions on TV, the young men choreographed and successfully performed their own synchronized swimming event. A smash hit, it has since become the main attraction of the annual school festival, gaining popularity as well as sophistication over the years: an incredible 20,000 people came to watch the swim team's performances at the school's year 2000 festival.

The birth of a film

In the fall of 1999, a producer happened to see a news program (on TV Asahi's "News Station") about the popular synchronized swimming event at the Kawagoe High School festival. His first-ever glimpse of the young men's highly acrobatic choreography convinced him to go to the festival and experience it in person, which led to contacts with the Kawagoe High swim team and in-depth research. After uncovering some of the more dramatic aspects of the story, including conflicts between the more conventional swim team members who want to race and the synchronized swimming enthusiasts, and the exhilaration of performing, the producer stepped up his efforts toward turning the story into a movie. With the plot under development, Shinobu Yaguchi was invited on board: this young director, well-known for his deft, off-beat comedies, joined the team and the script was completed.

The difference between women's and men's synchronized swimming

The Kawagoe High swim team version departs in several aspects from the official definition of synchronized swimming. Sheer numbers is one: in "men's synchronized swimming," 30 people perform together, and each swimmer follows an individual routine rather than acting as a unified whole. Also, the event is held in a normal 50 meter pool, so the performers' feet touch the bottom. As with conventional synchronized events, however, the swimmers perform in time to music.

About the cast

The actors playing the roles of the "Waterboys" are all new faces. From among hundreds of auditioners, 28 young men were chosen on the basis of their swimming ability and good looks. In the film, these young men are supported by a number of seasoned actors, veterans of the Japanese film world. The role of the synchronized swimmers' coach, Isomura, is played by Naoto Takenaka ("Shall We Dance?"), joined by Akira Emoto, Sawa Suzuki, and Tetsuta Sugimoto.


It's springtime in Japan and the Tadano High School swim team is barely keeping afloat. When a pretty new coach turns up with the nutty idea of creating a top synchronized swimming team of her own, she has just a few problems to overcome. First, she's teaching at an all-boys school; second, the 5 boys who have committed to the team are all hopelessly bad swimmers; third, she suddenly discovers she's 8 months pregnant and due for maternity leave.

Inspired by their darling coach's dream, the boys bumble through the spring and summer, preparing a routine for Tadano High's festival. They face great adversity: the derision of their fellow students, a swimming pool full of dead fish, the mounting pressures of college entrance exams, and worst of all, their own dismal record of constant failure. Their only encouragement comes from a gaggle of local drag queens and the crazy owner of an aquarium, whose idea of trainin them, is making them polish fish tanks round-the-clock.

When autumn finally rolls around, the boys have not only miraculously perfected a truly unique routine, they've won the respect and participation of a whole crew of new teammates. On the eve of the festival, the performance is threatened by one last catastrophe. Will the Waterboys hard work be wasted, or can they paddle their way to the success and recognition they've worked so hard to win?


Shinobu Yaguchi - Director's profile

Born in Kanagawa Prefecture on May 30, 1967, Yaguchi began shooting 8mm films while he was a student at Tokyo University of Art and Design. He also entered the world of theatrical filmmaking at this time, working as a production designer's assistant. After completing two short movies, Yaguchi spent two and a half years working on the 8mm film "Rain Woman", which won the grand prize at the 1990 PIA Film Festival. Using the accompanying scholarship, he completed his first theatrical feature, "Down the Drain", in 1993. This film, which follows the succession of misfortunes that befall an average high school girl when she boards a train without paying her fare, was screened at a number of foreign film festivals, including MOMA's New Directors, New Films (NYC) and the Toronto Film Festival, where it was highly praised.

Subsequently, while trying his hand at a wide range of media including television, video, commercials, the internet, and story-writing for popular comics, Yaguchi began working on a series of short videos entitled "One Piece!" with Takuji Suzuki, his schoolmate and co-writer of "Down the Drain". In 1996 Yaguchi's second theatrical film, "My Secret Cache", was released, followed by "Adrenaline Drive" in 1999. "My Secret Cache" had its debut screening at the Berlin Film Festival and won a Special Jury Award at the Hawaii Film Festival. "Adrenaline Drive" was given a broad foreign release, starting in the United States. Thanks to the success of these films, his name is well known in the U.S. and Europe, where it's said there are many Yaguchi fanatics. He is recognized as one of Japan's most promising young directors, a deft storyteller who enthralls audiences everywhere with his entertainer's skills.


05/13/01 WATERBOYS "Variety"
By David Rooney

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 10, 2001.

The production team behind Japanese hit "Shall We Dance?" moves off the dance-floor into the pool with "WATERBOYS", a goofy but charming comedy about a bunch of high school misfits who find acceptance and a sense of achievement in an all-boys synchronized swimming team. Ripe primarily for remake consideration, the warm-hearted teenpic's broad humor, expansive acting style and less-than-smooth plotting make it not an item for discerning art-house denizens. But its exuberant sprit, appealing young Speedo-clad cast and rousing triumph-of-the-underdog finale could help secure theatrical and video sales in some territories.

High school senior Suzuki (Satoshi Tsumabuki) is the last remaining member of the lacklustre swim team, which risks being wiped from the program. The arrival of a cute new female instructor (Kaori Manabe) prompts a sudden boost in interest, but when she reveals her dream of coaching a synchronized swimming team the numbers plummet again, leaving only five boys. Along with Suzuki, the Esther Williams wannabes are Afro-haired failed jock Sato (Hiroshi Tamaki), calculus nerd Kanazawa (Koen Kondo), skinny Ohta (Akifumi Miura), who's desperate to beef up, and painfully shy Saotome (Takatoshi Kaneko), a gay boy nursing a secret crush.

When the coach's pregnancy takes her out of the picture, the boys are left to train themselves and develop their own routine for the school carnival. Working through summer vacation and facing a growing stack of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, their sole encouragement in the community comes from some local transvestites. Suzuki stumbles upon a solution during a date at Sea World, convincing an ex-ploitative, but unwittingly helpful dolphin trainer (Naoto Takenaka) to polish the boys' skills. Some unplanned TV news coverage attracts lots of last-minute sign-ups, turning the carnival performance into a major splash.
There's something decidedly unrefined at times about the scripting of writer-director Shinobu Yaguchi, troweling on stumbling blocks in the team's path rather than exploring the boys' characters with any real depth. At times the agreeable tale feels overburdened with wacky developments and eccentric touches such as the drag queen supporters. But the laughs are frequently disarming, the boys genuinely likable, and their poolside dance routines and water-ballet moves set to lively Nippon-pop tuned provide a fun, upbeat ending for this colourful, summery comedy.


Satoshi Tsumabuki
Hiroshi Tamaki
Akifumi Miura
Koen Kondo
Takatoshi Kaneko

Aya Hirayama
Kaori Manabe

Naoto Takenaka

Tetta Sugimoto

Kei Tani

Akira Emoto


Screenplay / Director: Shinobu Yaguchi
Executive Producer: Shoji Masui
Producers: Akifumi Takuma, Daisuke Sekiguchi, Yoshino Sasaki
Director of Photography: Yuichi Nagata
Lighting: Tatsuya Osada
Production designer: Tsuyoshi Shimizu
Editor: Ryuji Miyajima
Recording: Hiromichi Koori
Music: Gakuji Matsuda, Hitomi Shimizu

Produced by Fuji Television Network / Altamira Pictures / Toho / Dentsu

2001 / 35mm / Vista / Color / 91 min.
(C)2001 Fuji Television Network / Altamira Pictures / Toho / Dentsu


2001 9/06`15@Toronto International Film Festival
2001 9/24`30@Filmfest Hamburg
2001 10/04`18@The Chicago International Film Festival
2001 10/11`21@Reel Affirmations, Washington DC
2001 11/02`08@Festival of Seville, Cinema & Sport
2001 11/02`11@Hawaii International Film Festival
2001 11/09`17@Pusan International Film Festival
2001 11/15`24@Birmingham Film and TV Festival
2001 11/16`25@exground filmfest, Frankfurt
2001 11/21`12/12@Verzaubert 2001, 5 cities in Germany
2001 11/29`12/09@ASIATICAFILMMEDIALE, Rome
2002 1/10`21@Palm Springs International Film Festival
2002 1/23`2/03@International Film Festival Rotterdam
2002 2/08`23@Portland International Film Festival
2002 2/27`3/03@Santa Barbara International Film Festival
2002 4/04`07@Wiscnsin Film Festival
2002 4/11`14@Taos Talking Picture Festival, USA
2002 4/18`5/02@San Francisco International Film Festival
2002 5/16`23@17th edition of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film & Video Festival
2002 6/21`30@Moscow International Film Festival
2002 July@CineAsia Film Festival, Germany
2002 7/19`27@Asia American International Film Festival
2002 7/25`8/04@21st Chicago Lesbian and Gay International Film Festival:Reeling2002
2002 8/01`15@Cinemanila, Philippines
2002 9/27@Pittburg University
2002 10/03`06@Sandiego Asian Film Festival
2002 10/19`26@Marco Island Film Festival
2002 10/21`25@Japan Society
2002 11/06`10@Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival, USA
2002 11/07`17@AFI Fest 2002, USA
2002 11/14`24@St. Louis International Film Festival

*as of 2002 6/27


KINEJUN Best 8th




Screenplay Award, Shinobu YAGUCHI
Director Award, Shinobu YAGUCHI
Lead ActorAward / New Actor Award, Satoshi TSUMABUKI
Best Music Award, Gakuji MATSUDA
Bset Music Award, Hitomi SHIMIZU
Sound Recording Award, Hromichi KOORI
Editing Award, Ryuji MIYAJIMA



Source: Nihon Academy Awards, as of 2002 4/06