Hong Kong Cinema

Blue Spring

  • Made: 2001
  • Format: DVD
  • Region: Region 1 NTSC
  • Release Date: 27 Jul 2004
  • Company: Wea Corp / Artsmagic
  • Length: 83 mins
  • Picture: 16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Language: Japanese with English Subtitles
  • Extras: Dolby Digital 2.0, Filmography, Commentary, Interviews
  • Classification: NR
  • Trailer - http://www.artsmagicdvd.com/bluespring


Toshiaki Toyoda


Ryuhei Matsuda, Hirofumi Arai, Sosuke Takaoka, Yusuke Oshiba, Mame Yamada

Blue Spring (Aoi Haru) is the brainchild of writer and director Toshiaki Toyoda (famed for winning Best Newcomer for Pornostar at the Japanese Film Director's Association). The film's youthful leads are Ryuhei Matsuda (Kujo) and Hirofumi Arai (Aoki), both relative newcomers to the industry, after featuring alongside the venerable Takeshi Kitano in Gohatto. This is one of the most exciting titles to feature on the Artsmagic label and invited many comparisons to Battle Royale after its release in Japan . On a superficial level there will be the obvious comparison over its depiction of teenage violence, but as the viewer will be pleased to note, there are many more reasons for taking a trip to Asa High.


The themes within Blue Spring are developed from a set of manga short stories from creator Taiyou Matsumoto. The plot is a simple tale of disillusionment and alienation in modern Japanese society within the backdrop of a High School (Asa High). The film is shot in a documentary style that flirts between a critical glance at modern education and a caricature of anarchic schooling. The kids run the school, well is there even a school to run? The handful of teachers seems only vaguely engaged in the chaos that surrounds them and violence is an accepted form of expression.

The hierarchy within the school is settled by playing a 'hand-clap' game on the top railing of the school building. The aim is to let go of the railing and clap you hands a number of times before grabbing hold of the railing again (falling would mean sudden death!). It is a poor man's Russian roulette and whoever can do the most claps becomes the boss. The fearless Kujo becomes boss, but his childhood friend (Aoki) still remains a 'gofer' in the eyes of others. As the film progresses, Aoki's frustration at being an invisible to Kujo becomes critical, and as will only tragically rest when Kujo acknowledges him once again as a friend.

The sense of invisibility and alienation afflicts all of the film protagonists, and this is further symbolised with them all growing a flower under the watchful gaze of the school's midget gardener. During the course of Blue Spring, all of the students seem to ponder (half-heartedly) whether they will get work or go to college, but several student's fates are decided in advance by either ending up in jail, in the Yakuza or in an early grave!



The set for Blue Spring is very modest, centring almost entirely within the school grounds. This adds to a gloomy, claustrophobic ambience throughout Asa High, which feels more like a deserted ghost school than a thriving and youthful establishment. In an interview with the director on the disc, Toyoda reveals that he was partly inspired by images of a German concentration camp. Toyoda succeeds to merge this modest set with a stylish and professional production, which could have easily been marred by a lazy MTV video style approach. The most impressive moment in Blue Spring features an amazing shot of Aoki standing motionless on the school roof all the way through a sunrise and sunset. Toyoda's knowing blend of panning cameras, razor sharp editing and slow mo's alongside the fresh and punky soundtrack makes this film really stand out from the generic teen apathy drama. BTW - in case I didn't already mention, the soundtrack for this film is sensational!!!


Blue Spring is a violent film, there is no hiding from this. Unlike the Tarantino's and Miike's of this world, the violence is not used to shock or disturb. What is most surprising is the film's apathy and indifference to violence. After a series of beatings and attacks, the authorities and police only become involved when Yukio (Sousuke Takaoka) decides to stab Ohta to death in the toilets with a giant kitchen knife! The camera hardly reacts to violence, and the most brutal scenes always occur just off camera. In some ways this is more shocking that a camera which glorifies blood and gore. Toyoda is much keener to show the impact of violence, or lack of it, on the film's main characters.



The good news about the Artsmagic Region 1 Disc, is that it delivers in the important areas, and its shortcomings are relatively insignificant. The plus points include a good crisp anamorphic print and clear subtitles (further kudos for the subtitles also translating some of the soundtrack as well as dialogue). As with earlier 2004 Artsmagic discs (Sabu, Full Metal Yakuza) there is a creditable set of extras, notably a commentary from Tom Mes, interview with Toyoda, filmography and bios. The downside would be the cheap and tacky disc graphics, which are a real shame, as the actual cover sleeve is presented particularly well.


Blue Spring is an excellent example of how Japanese cinema continues to be a force in original and fresh filmmaking. Toyoda shows a maturity beyond his years, delivering a compelling film without superstars, big budgets or special effects. The strength behind Blue Spring is the simplicity of its message and the composed way in which it is delivered. This is another encouraging release from Artsmagic, and Blue Spring will hopefully reveal to many viewers world-wide that a flower can only blossom with both nourishment and care.

(UK viewers will have to eagerly await a Region 2 release)