Toshiaki Toyoda’s “Blue Spring” (Aoi Haru, 2001) is a film that seems to fit into several Japanese cinematic and pop culture staples. Based on a “yankii” (juvenile delinquent) manga of the same name, this fits into a long-line of Japanese manga, anime and cinema which feature teenage boys, decked out in their black uniforms, hitting each other in increasingly inventive forms of violence. Referencing the seasons in the title to reflect the characters’ life stage has also been known to be used.
Asahi High is a school where the boys rule and teachers are little more than babysitters the students pick and choose whether to listen to or not. On the roof, the school’s gangs meet to hang off the rails and play a round of “clapping”, where the winner is the one who can let go of the railing and clap the most times before grabbing back hold once more. The victor gets to rule the school.
Kujo (Ryuhei Matsuda) is the latest winner and initially takes to his new role, dishing out violence to those that come across him. His gang, however, are a bit more fractured in a school world of every man for himself. The teachers make little real effort to get through to the kids, beyond Hanada (Mame Yamada), and sooner or later, the boys start to realise that they can’t rely on each other, and/or simply feel alienated.
The manga was a collection of short stories, and as such, Toyoda’s incarnation doesn’t have much overarching plot of which to speak. The “gang” are quite independent of each other and have their own stories, with random characters thrown-in here and there.
“Blue Spring” reflects the era from which it came. The manga published in 1993, what followed were a number of films in the mid-late Nineties looking at disaffected youth in the midst of economic downturn. As such, we see a familiar tale of children seeing little future after school, similar to Takeshi Kitano’s 1995 “Kids Return”: A baseball player who failed to make the national finals runs away to join the yakuza; a punk told he is failing and will have to repeat a year when just wanting to graduate, stabs his friend with a stoic expression.
Asahi High is a school of fantasy. With graffiti-laden walls and toilets of spray paint, blood, shit and piss, the teachers let the kids rule, walking in and out of class at will, eating and throwing allsorts at the blackboards. Toyoda’s flare for slow motion shots is also prevalent; the gang moving en masse to guitar music. While somewhat indulgent, he achieves the desired cool: the cast maintaining a balance of tough guy with youthful naivety.
We barely see the world outside of the school’s walls: the gang seeing little future beyond them. Outside, there are only concrete blocks, power lines and waiting yakuza recruiters. While this achieves some nice lines for Norimichi Kasamatsu’s cinematography, it doesn’t paint a pretty picture for the boys.
Kujo asks the rest of the gang individually what they want to do with their lives. They don’t really have answers. Nor really does he. While achieving his position of power, he glides through the halls and overlooks the school grounds from his victory spot. He could be a star footballer, but lacks dedication to it and gradually starts to reject his new-found position. He has no explicit ambitions, choosing to go with the flow. Best friend Aoki (Hirofumi Arai) can’t cope with Kujo’s new behaviour. With Kujo as leader and his best friend, he had power. If Kujo doesn’t have the power over others in their small world, neither does he.
Kujo, new yakuza recruit Kimura (Yusuke Oshiba) and newly arrested Yukio (Sosuke Takaoka) all plant flowers under Hanada’s observation. The three grow at different rates, marked by cigarettes with their names; Kujo’s the one to bloom best. By seemingly rejecting violence, he may move on to summer, but the others may be forever trapped in their eternal spring.
Blue Spring was released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Third Window Films on 13/05/2019.