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Blue Spring - Aoi Haru (Toyoda Toshiaki 2001)


Blue Spring
[Aoi Haru]

Genre: Extreme Youth Coming of Age

review in one breath

If adolescence means to Americans separation and rebellion, sexual experimentation, the search for an adult identity, and the potential for antisocial or deviant behavior, then the lives of teenagers in Japan will confound the American observer.
(from Video Letter from Japan II: Suburban Tokyo High School Students

Try as we might, there are just some things that simply cannot be translated into Hollywood parlance, and Blue Spring is certainly one of those things. Though faced with their own unique and serious challenges, the pressures faced by Western youth differ vastly from their Japanese counterparts due to the unparalleled priority Japan places upon Education. Unlike the west, where educational priorities focus on issues of accessibility (and for this reason it is assumed that one can enter a college simply if one desires to), the focus in Japan is upon achievement.

This focus upon achievement has created an incredible competition-based system wherein one's relatively poor scores in, let's say junior high-level History, will irrevocably change the course of your academic, and thereby occupational future. Thus, in Japan, there are massive chains of hierarchy among even preschools and kindergartens. Receiving placement in one of these privileged toddler schools opens doors to similarly excellent elementary schools, which in turn open doors to excellent junior highs, etc.

This phenomena also entails the stark reality that those who start in underperforming schools are almost destined to occupy a rather hopeless educational trajectory wherein all the academic expectations loudly expressed in society at large are forever unrealized. Poor performance at any level results in the student being relegated to a lesser school. Students of these schools have much less to hope for or expect from the future than their contemporaries privileged enough to be placed in better schools.

Blue Spring provides a glimpse into the daily realities of a group of high school seniors as they face the impending end of the school year and the sheer lack of options which await them. In lieu of the possibility of entrance into college (and thereby the road to "achievement"), the only alternatives open to our characters appear to be meager income via a meaningless employment or a life of crime with the yakuza. The school they attend is a pitiful, graffiti-filled repository for only the lowest achieving students. Disrespect for the teachers and their authority is rampant, demonstrated in the opening scene as our main characters chase a frightened teacher off the school grounds. The school's faculty and staff merely go through the motions, knowing the hopelessness of their task. In place of the traditional authority, students have created for themselves their own hierarchy grounded in nihilism and willingness to die a meaningless death.

Blue Spring strongly emphasizes this tragic cycle of self-destructive behavior among the students wherein a gang-like attitude among grades perpetuates itself year after year. The entire film suggests that this cycle must be escaped in order for our characters to truly survive, and the notion of such an escape is embodied in a simple yet meaningful message of hope which at least one of our characters will attempt to rely upon. It is the presence of this message which sets Blue Spring apart from other films merely centering on youth violence.

It soon becomes apparent that the student who feels he has the least to lose is elevated to the position of "boss" over the senior class. (And by example the junior and sophomore classes follow suit). This philosophy is exemplified by the "Clapping Game" which requires leader-wannabes to compete against each other while standing on the highest roof-ledge of the school. As the number of claps are sequentially yelled out by an ad-hoc referee, each competitor must let go the railing and clap that many times while suspended before allowing himself to reach once again for the security of the railing. Success implies you go on to the next round, loss of nerve means you forfeit through weakness, and failure means you plummet to your death.

In the opening scenes of Blue Spring we watch as Kujo (Matsuda Ryuhei, also of Shibito No Koiwazurai and Gohatto) demonstrates his superior nihilism by setting a new record in the clapping game and thereby earns the title of "boss" over the senior class. Although most students in the school do not participate in this ritual, there is a delinquent echelon which pours all its heart and soul into the discipline this exhibition requires. It becomes quickly apparent that Kujo is not the average boss due to his quiet, contemplative and unperturbed manner. Koju's closest and childhood friend, Aoki (Arai Hirofume, also in Jam Films), was himself once a "boss" during the junior high years, but now can only look on in respect as Kujo distinguishes himself so clearly from the other rivals.

With the rise of the contemplative Kujo, the audience is privy to his perspective on his world and situation. Kujo's contemplation allows for a fleeting insight into the meaningless self-destruction he and fellow students have learned and pursued from childhood. As to whether or not Kujo or any other character we meet can find even a modicum of redemption and thereby pursue a meaningful life is the very core of Blue Spring.

Blue Spring is actually a rather profound and dramatic exploration into the search for meaning in an otherwise despair-filled scenario. What is most impressive, perhaps, is the fact that Blue Spring's message of hope is indeed true and provides a lesson to the audience. And it is this meaningful lesson of hope and its impression which will linger with viewers long after the film has ended. We all know there are many films involving high school-aged violence. But how many actually have something to say to audiences? You'll find that Blue Spring has something to say.

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
The strength and impact of this movie's positive message of hope actually surpasses the ultra dismal and violent lives of its characters. When not plummeting to their death from school rooftops due to over-zealous bravado, these guys wield all manner of bodily havoc upon anyone who dares look at them. Weapons of choice include aluminum baseball bats and incredibly large, sharp knives (which effortlessly pierce not only torsos but also bathroom stall doors). Also, in addition to the formidable "nasal twist", there is of course the mega-cringe combo of full soda pop can and the thrust of one's heel. (oh my.) Thankfully no sex, given the fact that this takes place in an all-boys high school. I particularly liked this film due to the unexpectedly positive message. Of course, I also liked the midget botanist, the creepy shadow art, the undeniable power of a new punk haircut, and the prolonged, angst-induced, bare-fisted turd crushing. (hee hee!)

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