Adolescence is a time of great change in our lives. For 16-year-old Toshihiko, the questions in his head greatly outnumber the answers. A member of the swim team, he must live with a condition that’s tough to handle, especially in the changing room. His body is entirely hairless, which lead to plenty of mockery. Also on the team is young Ayako, who has a comparable yet diametrically opposed problem: she’s extremely hairy and her hypersensitive skin prevents any treatment. Toshihiko becomes fascinated by Ayako, and during an awkward conversation regarding their physical differences, he agrees to shave her, away from prying eyes. Their little clandestine ritual at last allows Ayako to lead a normal life, and plunge ahead to the top of the swim team. This attracts the attention of their trainer, who Ayako has fallen for, but also elevates Toshihiko’s interest in her to an intense obsession. Ah, first love — the words come out all wrong, it goes too far, it makes fools of us, and invariably, it hurts like hell…
Despite its unhinged premise and moments of delightful mirth, SWEET POOLSIDE is an outright drama, and this despite the director’s chair being occupied by Daigo Matsui, who made his mark at Fantasia with the hilarious AFRO TANAKA. Matsui again draws from the world of manga, this time a series by Shuzo Oshimi, to breathe life into teenage characters, outsiders struggling with their own desires. His story uses the follicular foibles of its protagonists to illustrate different challenges of adolescence with remarkable sensitivity. Addressing self-esteem, the gaze of others and the often chaotic first steps of young love, SWEET POOLSIDE dives into that time of our lives with a clever script about engaging characters, and a metaphor-packed examination of Toshihiko’s thoughts. Young actors Kenta Suga (ALWAYS SUNSET ON THIRD STREET) and Yuiko Kariya (THE FLOWER OF SHANIDAR) handle their tasks capably, doing justice to the reflections and missteps of their characters, while the excellent photography captures their sudden impulses that pull at them. This film focused on body hair may be one of the most astute examinations of adolescence to screen in a long time.
— Nicolas Archambault