by Toshiaki Toyoda. 2001, 83 minutes, starring Ryuhei Matsuda, Hirofumi
Arai, Sousuke Takaoka, and Yusuke Oshiba.
Life must be tough for kids in south-east
Asian schools. If they're not blowing each other's heads off in
off-the-wall field trips (Battle Royale), persuading each
other to jump off the roof (Suicide Circle) or scaring
the bejeebus out of each other (Whispering Corridors),
they're stuck in boring lessons in classes of 40 plus taught by
boring teachers in ramshackle schools covered in graffiti. And still
they're supposed to achieve huge grades to be able to go to university
to run up miles and miles of debt. Sigh. And you wonder why, above
and beyond the adolescent hormones pumping round their systems,
why some kids get disaffected and, well, violent?
Blue Spring, the second movie
from director/writer Toshiaki Toyoda is yet another addition to
the already well-populated Japanese high school genre movie. Instead
of aiming for bloody carnage or ghost stories, instead it's much
more of a character-driven movie, examining the dynamics of adolescent
boys' power disaffection and their struggles to prove themselves
as the toughest/strongest/meanest/hardest/scariest in the school.
A generic boys' high school, Japan. It's a rough
area. The school building is particularly run down – there's
graffiti all over the walls, the building is falling to bits. Local
yakuza cruise round trying to recruit boys who have proved themselves
tough. The school tries hard to protect its image – the baseball
team has moments of success – but basically once there, you're
locked there, and there's little way out. The teachers drone on
about twelfth century history, or economics, or complicated mathematical
formulae, and you can see the disinterest slowly eking its way through
To try to kill the boredom, the boys have developed
an entertaining, if rather lethal, power game – hanging off
the parapet of the roof, they let go, clap a set number of times
before grabbing hold of the rail again before they fall. In a deadly
game of cat and mouse, whoever can clap the most times becomes the
leader of the group. A boy called Kujo (a convincing and pouting
Ryuhei Matsuda) manages a new record of 8, much to the chagrin of
former champion Hori. So, to prove his supremacy, Kujo simply twists
Hori's nose off the front of his face.
Slowly Kujo's new regime establishes itself. It
has to be said Kujo's not particularly keen on being boss –
he says he's not cut out for it and would much rather that his friend
and errand-runner Aoki is in charge. Nevertheless, graffiti proclaiming
the school to be his turf appears on the walls. The only malcontent
is Leo, a half-American lad one year Kujo's junior, who starts to
visibly resist Kujo. Aoki encourages Kujo to challenge Leo –
although his friend seems, once again, reluctant to do so.
Things escalate when Aoki, burdened by a stomach
bug, is soaked by Leo and two friends in the toilets whilst taking
a poop. Really, Kujo, Yukio and Kikmura have little choice but to
chase down the other gang and beat them to pieces in the toilet.
Yukio, in the meanwhile, is approached by Ohta
Mizuguchu, a former pupil of the school who now works for the Yakuza,
with a view to recruiting him into the organisation. For fairly
unclear reasons, Yukio stabs him to death. In the aftermath, school
baseball star Kimura is recruited by the Yakuza.
The loss of his two lieutenants leaves Kujo in a
power vacuum. It's not really surprising then when Leo challenges
Kujo on the rooftop – both boys managing 8 claps this time.
On the ninth round, while Kujo succeeds, Leo falls, only to grab
the edge of the parapet and to be rescued by Kujo. After the beating
that inevitably follows, Kujo is quite happy to leave the liquidisation
of Leo to Aoki. Aoki doesn't react too kindly to this, and, after
an attempt at making peace with Kujo, returns to school the next
day with a new agenda...
Blue Spring is clearly an issue
movie. What does it have to say, though? It's maybe about the disaffection
of boys, how their lack of interest in education leads to violence,
crime and ruined futures. Maybe it's about the dynamics of power,
and how power corrupts (and it's very noticeable how former boss
Hori kow-tows to Kujo almost as soon as he's usurped). Maybe it's
just about boredom, and what the hell 18-year-olds are
supposed to do when there's nothing to do. What it's not,
though, is a criticism of the Japanese school system – there's
precious few adults in the entire movie, amongst them notably a
boring teacher (who's fault it's clearly not as there's
no real chaos in his lessons, though he seems as bored with the
subject matter as his charges), another a rather ineffectual careers
advisor and a third a diminutive middle-aged school gardener who
befriends Kujo and his gang.
Sadly, Blue Spring lacks a strong narrative
drive and it takes a couple of viewings just to get the plot clear.
There's a lack of pace in the film and important details are glossed
over. It's sometimes hugely difficult to follow what's
going on, and why. The motivation of some of the characters is ill-explained
in places – for example, the reasons why Yukio killa Ohta,
and why Kimura suddenly joins the Yakuza are skimmed over –
blink and you'll miss them. Perhaps the only fully-fledged character
is Aoki – we see, for example, that he has an (unnamed, unspeaking)
girlfriend. Maybe it's a reflection that, for the characters, there
is little life outside of school, but even so they are desperate
to get out. The future is bleak for them when they leave, for sure
– Kujo even polls his friends about what they have planned
for later in life and none of them can give anything like a concrete
answer. It must make Kimura's departure for the underworld rather
inevitable yet still glamorous.
Visually, the movie lacks flair. The violence is
mostly implicit – the multiple beatings are always just
out of shot, although they remain brutal and somewhat shocking.
However, towards the end, as Aoki makes his return, the style does
pick up and there are a few stunning shots as the movie makes its
way towards the denouement. What does lift the movie above TV movie
potboiler-dom however are the strong performances from the leads.
Ryuhei Matsuda's performance as Kujo is a highlight – broody
and tormented, yet still (necessarily) aloof and detached. There's
definitely a slashy (homoerotic) subtext to the film as well, which
will have the fangirls squeaking with delight. With such a uniformly
good-looking cast, Toyoda has ensured that a wider audience will
see this film, just to gaze longingly into the eyes of the young
With a pounding rock soundtrack from Japanese punkers
Thee Michelle Gun Elephant, Blue Spring, despite its shortcomings,
is a good movie. It's entertaining, it has a valid social commentary,
and the performances are strong. While it's a worthwhile addition
to anyone's collection, it's just a shame about the leaden pacing
and unconvincing motivation in places.
Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment value: 7/10
Violence: 6/10 – brutal, but always
out of shot
Sex: 20/10 – this is a boy's high school,
remember. I don't remember the tough kids at my school looking as
good as that – Daniel Randall was fat and had halitosis when
he was beating the shit out of the third years
Slashiness: 100/10. Eeek!
Thee Michelle Gun Elephant: ROCK!
Films in a similar vein: Battle
Frightful School Horror (erm..???), Suicide
Circle, All About Lily Chou-chou, The Yeogo
thoughtful way to spend 83 minutes***
film is released by Artsmagic
Discuss this movie here at the Snowblood Apple Forums!
Blue Spring Wallpaper
please note: the actual papers do not have the Snowblood Apple
logo on it.
You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600]
Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2004
- Blue Spring is available direct from Artsmagic, who
very kindly provided us with the screener copy used for this review
- Midnight Eye's rather effusive review
- Metamovie on the money yet again ;-)
- decent review from dvdmaniacs
- good review from Monsters At Play, with some good screenshots
- Scott Foutz gives the movie the usual thorough foutz.net going-over
- interesting review by Smogo
- some information on the original manga and the artist who created
- shrine to Ryuhei Matsuda (mostly in Japanese, some English sections