Based on a graphic novel by Taiyo Matsumoto, Nippon youthpic “Blue Spring” is a rather pretentious rite-of-passage drama whose stylish aspects both flatter and expose a lack of much real depth. At once reliant on delinquent-tough poses and sentimental about youth’s fleeting heyday, pic may play well at home, but offshore will work best as an addition to fest skeds and New Director showcases.
Life at an all-boy Asa High School is more rough ‘n’ ready than most Western auds associate with Japanese edu system. Graffiti-riddled institution is staffed by bored teachers who are in turn ignored by a hierarchical pecking-order of students. Ruling the roost are a group of seniors led by Kujo (doll-faced Ryuhei Matsuda, the lust object in “Gohatto”), who got his top spot winning a neck-risking ritual contest on school’s roof.
His right-hand-man Aoki (Hirofumi Arai) is bewildered when Kujo — perhaps beginning to take his adult future more seriously — abruptly loses interest in the usual bullying and one-upmanship. Meanwhile, an ailing student dies, another drops out to become a Yakuza, and other events occur portending end of carefree — if not exactly genteel — youth days.
Unable to cope with the imminent loss of this familiar context, Aoki finally commits a self-annihilating act that both caps and closes the boy-gang chapter.
Presented iconically from the get-go — one early slo-mo group strut is pure “Reservoir Dogs” — characters are angsty-cool surfaces, ones we barely learn to distinguish from each other before we’re expected to mourn their individual departures.
Minimalist, melancholy tenor overall is at odds with the sometimes over-the-top violence that takes place (albeit much of it offscreen). Mildly surreal elements include presence of school’s dwarf gardener; few flecks of humor work well within a primarily somber, even self-conscious, package.
Cleanly shot by Norimichi Kasamatsu, feature has occasional visual flourishes and lyric set pieces that director Toshiaki Toyoda (“Pornostar”) pulls off with aplomb. Still, they underline pic’s valuing attitude over tangible psychological substance.
Tech aspects are accomplished.