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Review © Alex Apple, 2004.

Directed by Toshiaki Toyoda. 2001, 83 minutes, starring Ryuhei Matsuda, Hirofumi Arai, Sousuke Takaoka, and Yusuke Oshiba.

Life must be tough for kids in south-east Asian schools. If they're not blowing each other's heads off in off-the-wall field trips (Battle Royale), persuading each other to jump off the roof (Suicide Circle) or scaring the bejeebus out of each other (Whispering Corridors), they're stuck in boring lessons in classes of 40 plus taught by boring teachers in ramshackle schools covered in graffiti. And still they're supposed to achieve huge grades to be able to go to university to run up miles and miles of debt. Sigh. And you wonder why, above and beyond the adolescent hormones pumping round their systems, why some kids get disaffected and, well, violent?

Blue Spring, the second movie from director/writer Toshiaki Toyoda is yet another addition to the already well-populated Japanese high school genre movie. Instead of aiming for bloody carnage or ghost stories, instead it's much more of a character-driven movie, examining the dynamics of adolescent boys' power disaffection and their struggles to prove themselves as the toughest/strongest/meanest/hardest/scariest in the school.


A generic boys' high school, Japan. It's a rough area. The school building is particularly run down – there's graffiti all over the walls, the building is falling to bits. Local yakuza cruise round trying to recruit boys who have proved themselves tough. The school tries hard to protect its image – the baseball team has moments of success – but basically once there, you're locked there, and there's little way out. The teachers drone on about twelfth century history, or economics, or complicated mathematical formulae, and you can see the disinterest slowly eking its way through the walls.

To try to kill the boredom, the boys have developed an entertaining, if rather lethal, power game – hanging off the parapet of the roof, they let go, clap a set number of times before grabbing hold of the rail again before they fall. In a deadly game of cat and mouse, whoever can clap the most times becomes the leader of the group. A boy called Kujo (a convincing and pouting Ryuhei Matsuda) manages a new record of 8, much to the chagrin of former champion Hori. So, to prove his supremacy, Kujo simply twists Hori's nose off the front of his face.

Slowly Kujo's new regime establishes itself. It has to be said Kujo's not particularly keen on being boss – he says he's not cut out for it and would much rather that his friend and errand-runner Aoki is in charge. Nevertheless, graffiti proclaiming the school to be his turf appears on the walls. The only malcontent is Leo, a half-American lad one year Kujo's junior, who starts to visibly resist Kujo. Aoki encourages Kujo to challenge Leo – although his friend seems, once again, reluctant to do so.

Things escalate when Aoki, burdened by a stomach bug, is soaked by Leo and two friends in the toilets whilst taking a poop. Really, Kujo, Yukio and Kikmura have little choice but to chase down the other gang and beat them to pieces in the toilet.

Yukio, in the meanwhile, is approached by Ohta Mizuguchu, a former pupil of the school who now works for the Yakuza, with a view to recruiting him into the organisation. For fairly unclear reasons, Yukio stabs him to death. In the aftermath, school baseball star Kimura is recruited by the Yakuza.

The loss of his two lieutenants leaves Kujo in a power vacuum. It's not really surprising then when Leo challenges Kujo on the rooftop – both boys managing 8 claps this time. On the ninth round, while Kujo succeeds, Leo falls, only to grab the edge of the parapet and to be rescued by Kujo. After the beating that inevitably follows, Kujo is quite happy to leave the liquidisation of Leo to Aoki. Aoki doesn't react too kindly to this, and, after an attempt at making peace with Kujo, returns to school the next day with a new agenda...

Blue Spring is clearly an issue movie. What does it have to say, though? It's maybe about the disaffection of boys, how their lack of interest in education leads to violence, crime and ruined futures. Maybe it's about the dynamics of power, and how power corrupts (and it's very noticeable how former boss Hori kow-tows to Kujo almost as soon as he's usurped). Maybe it's just about boredom, and what the hell 18-year-olds are supposed to do when there's nothing to do. What it's not, though, is a criticism of the Japanese school system – there's precious few adults in the entire movie, amongst them notably a boring teacher (who's fault it's clearly not as there's no real chaos in his lessons, though he seems as bored with the subject matter as his charges), another a rather ineffectual careers advisor and a third a diminutive middle-aged school gardener who befriends Kujo and his gang.

Sadly, Blue Spring lacks a strong narrative drive and it takes a couple of viewings just to get the plot clear. There's a lack of pace in the film and important details are glossed over. It's sometimes hugely difficult to follow what's going on, and why. The motivation of some of the characters is ill-explained in places – for example, the reasons why Yukio killa Ohta, and why Kimura suddenly joins the Yakuza are skimmed over – blink and you'll miss them. Perhaps the only fully-fledged character is Aoki – we see, for example, that he has an (unnamed, unspeaking) girlfriend. Maybe it's a reflection that, for the characters, there is little life outside of school, but even so they are desperate to get out. The future is bleak for them when they leave, for sure – Kujo even polls his friends about what they have planned for later in life and none of them can give anything like a concrete answer. It must make Kimura's departure for the underworld rather inevitable yet still glamorous.

Visually, the movie lacks flair. The violence is mostly implicit – the multiple beatings are always just out of shot, although they remain brutal and somewhat shocking. However, towards the end, as Aoki makes his return, the style does pick up and there are a few stunning shots as the movie makes its way towards the denouement. What does lift the movie above TV movie potboiler-dom however are the strong performances from the leads. Ryuhei Matsuda's performance as Kujo is a highlight – broody and tormented, yet still (necessarily) aloof and detached. There's definitely a slashy (homoerotic) subtext to the film as well, which will have the fangirls squeaking with delight. With such a uniformly good-looking cast, Toyoda has ensured that a wider audience will see this film, just to gaze longingly into the eyes of the young male leads…

With a pounding rock soundtrack from Japanese punkers Thee Michelle Gun Elephant, Blue Spring, despite its shortcomings, is a good movie. It's entertaining, it has a valid social commentary, and the performances are strong. While it's a worthwhile addition to anyone's collection, it's just a shame about the leaden pacing and unconvincing motivation in places.

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment value: 7/10
Violence: 6/10 – brutal, but always out of shot
Sex: 20/10 – this is a boy's high school, remember. I don't remember the tough kids at my school looking as good as that – Daniel Randall was fat and had halitosis when he was beating the shit out of the third years
Slashiness: 100/10. Eeek!
Thee Michelle Gun Elephant: ROCK!

Films in a similar vein: Battle Royale, A Frightful School Horror (erm..???), Suicide Circle, All About Lily Chou-chou, The Yeogo Goedam series

***A thoughtful way to spend 83 minutes***

This film is released by Artsmagic

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Blue Spring Wallpaper
please note: the actual papers do not have the Snowblood Apple logo on it.

You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2004

Snowblood Apple Filmographies

Toshiaki Toyoda
Ryuhei Matsuda
Hirofumi Arai
Sousuke Takaoka
Yusuke Oshiba

Links - Blue Spring is available direct from Artsmagic, who very kindly provided us with the screener copy used for this review - Midnight Eye's rather effusive review - Metamovie on the money yet again ;-) - decent review from dvdmaniacs - good review from Monsters At Play, with some good screenshots too. - Scott Foutz gives the movie the usual thorough going-over - interesting review by Smogo - some information on the original manga and the artist who created them - shrine to Ryuhei Matsuda (mostly in Japanese, some English sections at

this review (c) Alex Apple Collingridge, 2004. all other text and webdesign (c) 2002, 2003, 2004 M. Apple Collingridge, A. Collingridge, Larry D Burns. All characters, situations and images remain the property of their respective owners. The text and webdesign of this site may not be copied, reproduced, mirrored, printed commercially or ripped off in any other way. Do not hotlink directly to images hosted on this site.