The dawn of the millennium has long become a distant memory but yet those formative years of the noughties bore witness to dystopic visions of youth from Japan’s filmic underground, with 2000’s Battle Royale and 2001’s All About Lily Chou Chou and Blue Spring ruling the roost. The latter, Toshiaki Toyoda’s second feature, warped the director’s punk aesthetic and DIY approach with a newfound hopelessness; staring into an abyss of biblical proportions, Toyoda’s vision ruthlessly spewed out its generation’s despondencies and tossed its denizens into the world to fend for themselves. Almost two decades later, Third Window Films is finally bringing this bleak yet revered cult classic back to the UK.
winner of The Clapping Game – a ritual which sees students clap their hands
whilst defying death atop the school’s summit – declares Kujo (Ryuhei Matsuda)
the leader, the lives of those within his clan plunge into depths as ruinous as
their concrete enclave. Dreams quashed by a major baseball loss, Kimura (Yusuke
Ohshiba) nonchalantly ditches school to join up with the yakuza; aimless Yukio (Sosuke
Takaoka), frustrated with the pressure of school and his non-existent future,
snaps and spirals down a path of maniacal violence. It is a microcosm where
education and adult governance have been replaced with such senseless violence
and the leader’s iron fist. Becoming disenfranchised with this position, Kujo
distances himself from his responsibilities, finding solace in the
philosophical leanings of the diminuitive Hanada (Mame Yamada); his
enthusiastic left-hand man Aoki (Hirofumi Arai) cannot comprehend this, and
boldly takes matters into his own hands.
the autobiographical works of Taiyo Matsumoto, Blue Spring makes exceptional use of its
origins: its wildly dysfunctional universe retains the roughness which could
only come from manga, coldly injecting the surreal to contaminate the real. Kujo’s
contemplative journey through his utterly dilapidated surroundings, much like
his fellow students, comes out of desperation; his listless boredom and reckless
disregard for his own life permeate through his actions – his partaking of the
suicidal clapping game is just a means to pass the time. Not only do Matsuda,
Ohshiba, and Takaoka perfectly encapsulate their characters’ absurdist dilemmas
but Toyoda’s low-brow execution frames them in a way that, whilst not entirely
sympathetic, feels very human. There’s an urgency running rampant here despite
the film’s slow nature, one in touch with the era’s cinematic discourse; it
makes this as evocative a watch as it is provocative.
Featuring some of the country’s hottest emerging talent at the time, the solid performances here do well to push their narratives through the grey. Sure they’re rough around the edges but this perfectly mirrors the absence of a substantial existence. The only one whose albeit narrowminded purpose serves as a guiding beacon is Aoki, the yin to Kujo’s yang both in terms of motivation and drive; Matsuda and Arai’s energies are unrivalled here, providing a significant backlash towards the film’s end – resulting in one of cinema’s most mesmerising third acts – but its this relationship which pushes this film forward. With one wanting to break free from the other we are compelled to hope, and it is the only hope which could possibly arise from the film. Their inexperienced, almost fantastical, lives serve as a harbinger for not just teenagers but for adults and those serving on top; it is staggering at how effective Toyoda manages to succeed in pulling all of us in and subjecting us to an anarchic vision of excessive nothingness.
While Blue Spring surrounds itself with heavy
themes it is far from being a hellish quagmire of existential drama too tough
to stomach. Though it lacks the temper and force of Battle Royale and the poeticism of All AboutLily Chou Chou
its uncompromising vision oozes a completely DIY aesthetic made even more
possible with The Michelle Gun Elephant’s punchy garage rock soundtrack, giving
the film a uniquely music video vibe. Its cutthroat editing and changes from
timelapse to slow-motion and everything in between help keep this vibe from becoming
stagnant. Thanks to Norimichi Kasamtsu’s exquisite cinematography, Toyoda’s
unflinching vision comes vividly to life, filling the screen with a profound
despair no one can escape from.
looks and feels like a product of its time it has aged remarkably well and
remains strikingly relevant. Inheriting what is essentially a mess of a planet
our generation takes to inane and meaningless pleasures to escape the numbing
mediocrity and boundless despair whilst desperately seeking our own dreams. Blue Spring offers no comfort or
solution: its strikingly simple message however is not lost on us and whilst
the innocence of a generation was stripped of flesh in these films nearly
twenty years prior, it is still to be regained. Toyoda’s film reminds us of
this; not only that, it still holds up as a film in its own right alongside its
contemporaries, projecting a disturbing if not restrained abyssal portrait
which has never been replicated.
Jamie Cansdale is a graduate of Film and American Studies from the University of East Anglia, where he specialised in Japanese Cinema, Youth Subcultures, and the American 1960s. During his time there he became heavily interested in semiotics, postmodernism, ideology, and the ideas of the real, the simulacra, and reconstructed realities. His undergraduate dissertation explored the human-internet interface in post-millennial Japanese genre cinema from a philosophical perspective. He is a writer and contributor for The Metal Observer, Metal Recusants, and New Noise Magazine.