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Blue Spring
cast: Ryuhei Matsuda, Hirofumi Arai, Sousuke Takaoka, and Yusuke Oshiba

writer and director: Toshiaki Toyoda

83 minutes (unrated) 2001
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Artsmagic NTSC DVD Region 1 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Peter Schilling
A strange, allegorical schoolyard drama about disaffected youths forming cliques and violent gangs seemingly inspired by the social codes of samurai warrior clans. Blue Spring (aka: Aoi haru) concerns the brotherly relationship between Kujo (politely androgynous Ryuhei Matsuda), and the eagerly thuggish Aoki (Hirofumi Arai, brilliantly portraying a studied insolence that's quite magnetic). Best friends since infancy these two attend the kind of deprived Japanese high school where yakuza recruiters loiter at the gates, urging unruly students to shed their blazers, vault the perimeter fence and never return to finish their education. In this world of extremely boring lessons, swaggering bullies, bruised egos, and some gross-out toilet humour, the only possible release for pent up aggression is open defiance of authority and the supposedly 'cool' feigning of indifference to adult life or interest in the future. (When counselled about his dwindling career options, a seemingly talented musician only mutters something about 'vague dreams of world peace', yet he later commits a particularly heinous murder.) Naturally then, the shadows of death and impending tragedy hang over even the most humorous proceedings like a hungry tiger waiting to pounce.
   A pretty girl waits outside the main entrance, and all of the boys wave to her from the classroom windows. Kujo, as usual, is on the highest rooftop watching over the playing fields. The roof is where these boys practice their daring game of clapping while standing on the wrong side of the protective barrier and in danger of falling. Upon releasing his grip on the railings, how many times can Kujo clap his hands before having to grab hold of the top rail again? Defending 'titleholder' Kujo is challenged by others, including pal-turned-punk Aoki, and their long time friendship is broken after a fierce brawl over who will or should be the schoolyard boss...
   Lord Of The Flies meets Reservoir Dogs? Blue Spring is a frequently delirious yet ultimately lyrical psychodrama of young-male bonding, and subsequent breaking. The subtitled film has a cartoonish brutality and it benefits tremendously from the perpetually scowling attitudes of its supporting cast. At the heart of all this arch sourness Kujo's wistful solitude offers a marked contrast to other boys' aggro, and he flouts conventional behaviour by refusing at first to engage in further contests of bravado, preferring the company of a sympathetic midget gardener who encourages the boys to plant flowers instead of fighting. Significantly, of course, Kujo is the sole member of his gang who attentively waters the garden trough, and comes to realise (and actually foresee) the peril that Aoki's raw hostility to everyone will eventually force him to confront. Some excellent performances from a convincingly youthful cast make this a worthy oriental alternative to US classics such as The Blackboard Jungle.
   DVD extras: expert commentary by Tom Mes, interview with the director, text biographies and filmographies, artwork gallery.
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