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Loosely based on a Manga story, Blue Spring is director Toshiaki Toyoda's latest effort to reach DVD thanks to Artsmagic. Many compare it to the previous year's extreme blockbuster Kinji Fukasaku's Battle Royale considering that they covers a similar topic. However, Toyoda takes it one step further, the kids are free to do what they want and we see how they maintain control in a system that should in all likelihood be chaotic.

Blue Spring
Movie
Blue Spring is the story of a gang of disenchanted Japanese students. They control their local high school to such a degree that the gang can rid of any teacher they take exception to. The high school (Asa High) is chaotically infested with equally minded kids that the system has failed to embrace, and as such they have their own system of power. Everyone respects the gang but it is the boss that has the ultimate control, yet becoming the boss is merely a matter of dare. The challenge involves hanging onto the outside edge of iron railings perched at the top of the building, the contestant that lets go and claps the the most without giving into gravity and falling to their death is the winner. Anyone can challenge the boss.

We see one such contest at the beginning,  and eventually the unassuming Kujo wins. Kujo doesn't live up to the expectations of the rest of the gang. He's somewhat recessive in nature and his leadership reflects this; he's more of a philosopher than a thug interested in the day-to-day duties of his position. His lack of interest over time evidentially leads to more problem and a general lack of control. This results in division within the ranks with members drifting away, violence, killings and leadership challenges... with graduation in sight anything can happen.

Director Toshiaki Toyoda continues a tradition of Japanese cinema by portraying their youth as a lost cause. I doubt reality is anything like that exhibited in Blue Spring, but Tom Mess (more about his commentary later) does give the indication that there is some reality to it. Toyoda is a talented director producing what is a stylish and visually stunning movie. All extreme violence is portrayed off-screen producing a more chilling feeling; Toyoda makes such good use of this technique that it is hardly noticed. Including Thee Michelle Gun Elephant tracks in the soundtrack definitely added to the experience, it made such an impact on me that I ended up buying one of their albums - even though I can't understand them.

Blue Spring
Video
Given the aforementioned visual style of this movie, visual quality is all the more important. This disc features a good quality 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer with vibrant colours and solid blacks. There are no noticeable compression problems. Obviously the extras aren't at the same level of quality but there's nothing to complain about. Subtitles are optional and they don't appear to feature any translation weirdness.

Audio
We get a Dolby Digital 2.0 Japanese soundtrack that does the job well. Blue Spring has an excellent soundtrack, which unfortunately isn't available to buy separately. A 5.1 remix would have been a nice addition here, but I guess Artsmgic DVD have a budget to think about when releasing non-English language titles.

Extras
First on the list is the biography/filmography section covering everyone worth mentioning and totaling just less than twenty pages. Artsmagic always make a good job of these sections and this case is no different.

Then there's what I consider the highlight. The soft-spoken Tom Mes commentary is a wonderfully informative addition to the disc. Covering the soundtrack, story, director, actors, point of the movie, story tradition and lots more. If you want to find out lots of useful tidbits about Japanese movies and the people involved in them then I highly recommend this commentary - this is true of all tracks by this acclaimed writer on Japanese cinema. One small note, it suffers from a momentary crackling problem part the way through (lasts about 10 seconds).

There are two interviews with Blue Spring director Toshiaki Toyoda. He comments about the movie's origins and influences. Mentions his preconditions for joining the project including the requirement that he be able to use songs from Thee Michelle Gun Elephant. There's also some words on the stylized techniques used, and how the movie relates to real life schools in Japan. Just over fifteen minutes in total. The second half concentrates on one of his other movies Pornostar, which unlike the title suggests is his take on Yakuza.

To complete the extras there's an artwork section which shows three upcoming Yakuza titles from Artsmagic in the US, Miike's Black Society Trilogy.

Blue Spring
Overall
I liked this movie, it shares a similar theme to that of Battle Royale, but a slightly different approach and execution. The visual style and soundtrack give it an edge that makes Blue Spring difficult to forget. It may not be as action orientated as Battle Royale, but makes up for this in other ways. Extras are a bit light even with the excellent commentary. If you enjoy Japanese cinema in general, then I highly recommend this DVD – it makes a change from Miike's in-your-face extreme titles.

For more infomation on Blue Spring (including a trailer), Artsmagic have produced the following site:The DVD is due to hit the streets in the US on 27th July 2004.


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