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SMILERS (Sumairu seiya no kiseki) (Japanese)

  Publicity Stills of
(Courtesy of Cathay-Keris Films)

In Japanese with English & Chinese Subtitles
Director: Takanori Jinnai
Cast: Mirai Moriyama, Rosa Kato, Yoshiko Tanaka, Kei Tani, Kenji Sakaguchi (Special Guest Appearances by: Takashi Tsukamoto, Hiro Tamaki, Naoko Iijima, Sachie Hara, Koichi Sato, Susumu Terajima)
RunTime: 2 hrs 5 mins
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films
Rating: PG
Official Website: http://www.go-smilers.jp/

Opening Day: 2 October 2008


After sustaining a career-ending injury, tap dancer, Shuhei Sano (Mirai Moriyama), arrives in Japan’s snow-bound, northern island of Hokkaido with hopes of marrying his longtime girlfriend and figure skating instructor, Shizuka (Rosa Kato). But his plan quickly runs afoul on Shizuka’s father, a local business magnate and ice rink owner, who is not ready to relinquish his daughter. Shizuka’s father then challenged Shuhei to coach a junior ice hockey team to their next victory. Despite having no prior knowledge of the game or any skating experience, Shuhei accepts, unaware that the team has NEVER won a single game. The “Smilers”, as they seem unfittingly named, are a handful of self-proclaimed “losers”, “misfits” and “rejects” from other teams. More than talent, they lack any semblance of teamwork, motivation and confidence. But to everybody’s surprise, Shuhei proves himself ready for them, employing an odd mix of child psychology, genuine concern and a few ingenious tricks to get the team to play to their potential and win! Just as Shuhei’s magic and the team’s hopes begin to wear thin, a beautiful young figure skater idolized by everyone at the rink becomes hospitalized with a terminal illness. With her chances of recovery as slim as the team’s tournament victory, suddenly, the team has its battle cry. But will it be enough?

Movie Review:

Smilers makes its intention very clear from its title- it wants to make you smile. Better still, it wants to make you laugh.

And on the whole, it does succeed in achieving its purpose, though first, you have to get over its premise that borders very much on incredulity.

Its story revolves around a tap dancer, Sano (Mirai Moriyama), who has never played hockey before, coaching a rag tag group of children ice hockey players called the Smilers to win the approval of his girlfriend’s father. You see, the father owns a hockey rink and needs a coach for the hockey team. So he agrees, that if Sano can coach the hockey team to victory, he will allow the couple to get married.

Yes, it is a sports movie about the underdogs. And you’d probably guess how it’ll all end. Nevertheless, the journey is not as predictable as it sounds and therein lies the quirky charm of Smilers. Besides being a tap dancer, Sano also has a degree in child psychology (huh?). While his team plunders their way on the ice, Sano starts tap-dancing on the sidelines, his mind working overtime to apply his concepts of child psychology to help his team win.

It’s not all about chance and luck therefore. Sano has strategy, albeit slightly different from what one would expect of from an ordinary coach.

The jokes come fast and furious in this movie, but they are also a mixed bag. Some like Sano’s flashes of inspiration accompanied by an initially broken lightbulb suddenly coming back to life, or Sano’s tap-dancing on the sidelines while his team is on the ice, will make you chuckle. But others like Sano’s hyperactive prances around the locker room, or slow-mo shots of players flying through the air complete with a trail of blood, are simply puzzling, if not annoying.

There is also a subplot thrown in of a beautiful teenage girl, Reina, who has mesmerized the hearts of the boys on the team, but whose interest lies in a quiet, shy player Masaya. Director Takanori Jinnai draws out a generous dose of hilarity from the fantasies of these young, mostly prepubescent boys (don’t worry, this is PG), but also, be warned, a fair bit of melodrama towards the end.

For the most part, the movie coasts on the charm of its lead characters, Sano and the group of Smilers. Mirai Miroyama gamely hams up for his character Sano, even through some of his scenes that will make you cringe in your seat. The child actors in Smilers are also all naturals, each one of them defining their character in their own unique ways, every one of them equally endearing.

Indeed, Smilers is quite immediately reminiscent of other “triumph-of-the-underdogs” movies such as Swing Girls or The Waterboys. Unfortunately, it falls several notches below those rousing classics. Still, it remains a feel-good, campy time at the movies, and if you’re willing to be generous enough, it will make you smile.

Movie Rating:

(Not all of its bits work, but there are enough to keep you grinning)

Review by Gabriel Chong


. Shaolin Girl (2007)

. 10 Promises to My Dog (2007)

. Hero (2007)

. Hula Girls (2006)

. Swing Girls (2005)

. Hinokio (2005)

. Helen the Baby Fox (2006)

. A Tale of Mari and Three Puppies DVD (2007)


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