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
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
Smilers makes its intention very clear from its title- it
wants to make you smile. Better still, it wants to make you
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.
(Not all of its bits work, but there are enough to
keep you grinning)
Review by Gabriel Chong