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Movie Reviews: Blue Spring

His name is Kujo (Ryuhei Matsuda), and he looks far too delicate and handsome to be a Japanese high-school gang leader, but I think that's the idea. Kujo and the rest of his buddies do things like dangle themselves backwards from the fence around the roof of the school to see who can hang there the longest without falling. Since Kujo manages to stick it out further than anyone else, he's automatically elected boss, and they strut through the graffiti-splattered corridors of their school, dealing with and doling out trouble in about equal measure.

This is the setup for Blue Spring, one of an ongoing tradition of Japanese films about violent, disaffected youth that border on romanticism. Takashi Miike's Fudoh comes to mind, although Blue Spring is nowhere nearly as over-the-top as that film; it's more deliberate and thoughtful, even in moments where teachers are being doused with water. The director, Toshiaki Toyoda, uses occasional dashes of attitude and posturing—like the too-cool rock music that streaks across the soundtrack every so often—but he's mostly content to let his story tell itself. It's a smart move.

Kujo hardly seems suited to be leader of his gang, but wins the post through a show of daring.

Kujo wanders aimlessly with his buddies, cutting class, drawing pictures, hacking around in empty classrooms, doing anything but schoolwork. Flunking or graduating are both the same to them. And like in the similarly-bleak All Night Long, there are no parents or genuine figures of authority to be seen anywhere. College is an unattainable goal, and real work seems like a drag—if they could get any in the first place. Life for them is one big holding action. When a guidance counselor asks one of the kids, "Don't you have any dreams?" the only answer he receives is "Yeah, world peace…or something like that," which to him is about as realistic as graduating.

Kujo doesn't seem terribly interested in his job at first; in fact, he's quite content to float ar ound and do nothing. "People who know what they want scare me," he says at one point, presumabl y because for him to know what he wants would be more than he could hope to have. After a perceived diss by a group of juniors, his lieutenant Aoki (Hirofumi Arai), tries to get Kujo's blood riled up, but Kujo takes a miss: "You're more cut out for this, Aoki. You were boss in junior high, too." Then Aoki gets humiliated in one of the school toilets and tries to take revenge…although it doesn't quite work, and it's only then that Kujo is roused to action, taking a baseball bat to the genitals of one of Aoki's tormentors.

School life is one unending set of rivalries, dominations, and power games after another.

Most of the school consists of misfits of one kind or another. One kid named The Ghost falls asleep in class, is the first to leave the school when the bell rings, and is rumored to have some kind of wasting disease. The groundskeeper is a midget who doles out sage advice to the juvies and tries to get them interested in horticulture (and they even manage to plant a flower bed of their own, with cigarettes to designate whose flower is whose). Some of them actually have goals: one has ambitions, however misguided, to make it to the national baseball championships and maybe make something of his life, but the deck is stacked so far against him it's a joke.

Then the movie begins to slowly expand its scope, and we realize that the school serves as little more than an in-place training ground for the way the rest of their lives are going to work regardless of what direction they take. Gangsters cruise around outside the school grounds, recruiting new lieutenants right out of the classrooms, offering them little more than an amped-up version of the same hierarchies they're already used to. When one of the student gang members sends his buddy out for ice cream bars, it's an echo of the gofer-ism that the perpetual bottom salaryman on the ladder experiences in the office. It's not like they would have anything new to get used to, since they've already experienced the worst of it already. When Kujo beats up another upstart by shoving his face down on a floor covered with thumbtacks, he seems to be doing it more because it's expected of him, not because he's genuinely offended.

Kujo finds himself nose-to-nose with his old buddy, wondering if there's a way out.

Ryuhei Matsuda, as Kujo, first came to the attention of many in Nagisa Oshima's Gohatto, although the role he played there was more of a placeholder than an actual character. Here, he's got a slightly meatier role to play with, but again embodies most of his character's behavior by holding back rather than emoting. It works, especially when the rest of the cast serves as contrast by being in-your-face and upfront. Another interesting thing is that the movie has its fair share of violence, but it's often done in a misdirecting way—when there's a stabbing in a bathroom stall, all we see is the tip of the knife emerging from the divider.

There are many funny bits, like an impromptu cigarette-smoking duel, or when one student draws an unflattering picture on the desk of his sleeping comrade using strategically-placed grains of rice. I also laughed when one of the delinquent kids is dragged off by the cops, screaming "You can't arrest me—I'll miss my exams!" There are even moments of real beauty, as when one of the stude nts stands on the rooftop all night long in timelapse, a sequence which leads directly into the movie's visually striking conclusion. Blue Spring isn't quite a masterpiece, but it's several notches above many other films in its rubric, and has a few things to say about its material that would never occur to a lesser movie.

Tags: Japan Ryuhei Masuda Toshiaki Toyoda movies review

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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the categories Movie Reviews, Movies, published on 2004/06/06 03:13.

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