Gambette Ikimasshoi (1998)

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Itsumichi Isomura directs this coming-of-age story about a quintet of young girls and their attempts to form a girls' rowing team in their rural high school. Set in the 1970s on the island of Shikoku, the film centers on Etsuko Shinomura (Rena Tanaka), a freshman looking to find a place for herself in the bustle of the high school. Not the educational workhorse -- like her elder sister who managed to get into an elite university in Tokyo -- she casts about the school for a club activity, only to find that none of the traditional pastimes for girls hold her interest. Things change for her when, one day at the beach, she spies the boys' sculling team and is mesmerized. With a single-minded determination, she manages to convince the school and round up another four girls for a team -- tall and acid-tongued Dakko (Kirina Mano), plucky Hime (Mami Shimizu), rotund Imochi (Emu Hisazumi), and warm-hearted Lee (Rie Yano). They learn the basics of rowing from their male counterparts, but their first problem is simply getting the shell from the rowhouse to the water. Later, as their aquatic flailing starts to resemble something like sculling, they get a coach (Tomoko Nakajima), a former rowing star with a mysterious past. Meanwhile, Etsuko starts to have strange new feelings for her childhood friend Sekino (Masatoshi Matsuo), who is on the boys' rowing team. In spite of their steely drive and their unbound enthusiasm, the quintet still proves to be remarkably bad athletes. Despite an utter lack of talent and numerous health and personal problems, the five bravely soldier on to the regional competition.