Blue Spring (2001) Movie Review

For anyone with delusions that Japanese high schools are orderly and filled with overly studious teens, “Blue Spring” is sure to shatter that idea. “Blue Spring” is a study of teenage nihilism, and while it displays some style and a memorable performance by the male lead, the film never gets beyond its comic book origins and eventually devolves into an overwrought and angst ridden tale.

Our hero is Kujo (Ryuhei Matsuda), who wander aimlessly with his friends doing anything but schoolwork or getting a job. One of their activities is to hang off the school’s roof to see who can clap the longest. When Kujo manages to last the longest, he’s elected leader of the gang. The only problem is, he doesn’t have much taste for enforcing mob rule, preferring to leave the task to his second in command. This raises the ire of his emotional best friend and leads to a neverending set of power plays and rivalries that soon become the daily norm in school life.

What stands out in “Blue Spring” is the performance of Ryuhei Matsuda (“Love Collage”) as Kujo. His angelic visage and withdrawn manner makes him an unlikely gang leader, but he has an intense screen presence that draws your attention and steals every scene he’s in. Of all the performances in “Blue Spring”, his is the one you’ll remember the most.

Director Toshiaki Toyoda (“9 Souls”), who adapts the movie from a manga, gives the film a relatively fast pace as well as some nice visuals, which is especially true in a striking time-lapse sequence toward the end. Toyoda is also smart enough to mute the violence, not letting most of the gore show but letting the audience fear the worst. But he goes overboard in trying to convey the bleak atmosphere of the film with its misfit students, gang members dressing like Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix”, the use of shadowy lighting, and too many scenes taking place in the medieval-looking boys room. The film winds up feeling stylish, but oppressive and overly bleak.

“Blue Spring” has some comic relief that’s much needed, but doesn’t show up nearly often enough. As for plot, Toyoda mishandles things. “Blue Spring” could have been a film on the scale of a Shakespearean tragedy, but instead it’s just a relentlessly depressing and violent tale of disenfranchised youths. The script tends to be overwrought and overdone, especially when banging the audience over the head with the idea that these kids have no plans or hope for the future.

Another annoyance is the blaring rock music that screams across the film’s soundtrack. At first it seems to suit the film, but midway through it becomes incredibly irritating and detracts from watching the movie. Musical scores and soundtracks should enhance the film, not draw attention from it. In “Blue Spring”, the soundtrack seems like it’s trying to hijack the movie, and when that happens the audience is the real victims.

“Blue Spring” does have some positive attributes, but unfortunately the negative ones overwhelm them. If only the filmmakers had decided that less was more in terms of bleak atmosphere and music, they probably could have made a better movie. Fans of Japanese cinema may like this effort, but most moviegoers won’t.

Toshiaki Toyoda (director) / Toshiaki Toyoda, Taiyo Matsumoto (screenplay)
CAST: Ryuhei Matsuda …. Kujo
Hirofumi Arai …. Aoki
Sousuke Takaoka …. Yukio

Buy Blue Spring on DVD