Aoi Tori (Blue Bird)
((summary taken from aznv.tv))
Aoi Tori / The Blue Bird / 青い鳥
With the start of a new school term, there is no longer any sign of Noguchi, the bullied student who attempted suicide, and everything seems to have returned to normal. But stuttering substitute teacher Murauchi (Abe Hiroshi) gives a swift kick to this guise of normalcy by bringing Noguchi's desk back to the classroom, and stammering "good morning" to his empty chair everyday. His gesture becomes a pointed and painful daily reminder to both the school staff and his troubled students, especially guilt-ridden Shinichi (Hongo Kanata) who participated in the torment of Noguchi.
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I've always been fascinated with the phenomena of school bullying (actually, any form of bullying, really) so perhaps I was a bit bias going into this film, but personally, I loved it.
I think it definitely helps that this is a movie most people can relate to. After all, nearly everyone has experienced bullying in one form or another--whether they were the perpetrator, the victim, or merely a silent observer. One thing I think Blue Bird does really well, is to explore the issue without coming off as too preachy or over-the-top (though I read some critics disagree.) For the average viewer though, I thought it balanced everything just right, and was honest and straight-forward in its approach.
It's beautifully shot, and doesn't feel like a single scene or line of dialogue is wasted or out of place: The music, lyrics, dialogue, even the class-readings all have an important part to play in the overarching theme. Some of the comments I've read described it as a bit slow or boring . . . but I didn't feel that way at all. Though again, it could have more to do with my ability to get sucked into the story because of my interest in the subject matter, and less to do with the film's actual pacing. So to be fair, I should state that it might not be as easy to watch for other viewers.
But either way, it brought me to tears several times, so they must have been doing something right.
As for the acting: Hiroshi Abe was brilliant as always, and continues to be one of my favorite Japanese actors of all time (I just fell in love with him in Trick.) Here, he plays the character with dignity and heart, and there's never a moment when you're not cheering for him or the lesson he's trying to impart. The boys playing the students did a wonderful job as well. In particular, I was impressed by the actor who played the bullied student (despite the fact that he only had one real speaking scene.) Yet, that moment in the classroom just broke my heart. You could literally feel his despair and hurt betrayal.
For some reason, I really enjoyed the female teacher too, and what she was able to bring to the story. In her own way, she appears to be coping with the near-suicide right along with the students, and seems genuine in her desire to help. Case in point, one of the ways the school chooses to deal with the bullying issue, is to have the students write a reflection essay that is five pages minimum, and revised if necessary. For me, her soft-spoken line really stood out: "Why does it always have to be five-pages?" I love how ridiculous the whole scenario seems (as if the length of the essay will really change things) and yet, nobody has a more suitable solution. I think it says a lot about how desensitized people can get to punishment, and that there's no sure-fire-way to measure repentance and regret. True closure comes when problems are faced head-on, and dealt with through humility and understanding . . . something, thankfully, that at least a few of the students are able to grasp by the end of the movie.
If I had any issues at all, it was that Murauchi's motivations are never truly explained (or else, not explicitly stated.) From the class-picture he kept in his book, I assumed he was Noguchi's teacher at the new school he transferred too, and that perhaps Noguichi successfully committed suicide by jumping off the school's roof. As depressing as the idea is, I actually thought it would be a very poignant way to end the film, while adding another dimension to the significance of his desk, and Murauchi's insistence that he not be forgotten. In the end though, there's really nothing to back this theory up, since we're only ever given hints, and no concrete evidence to support it. Still, the lack of clarification doesn't take anything away from the film itself, and would've only served to make an already strong movie, even stronger.
So, to sum up: I would definitely recommend this film. It's a beautiful examination of guilt, blame, and responsibility, dealing with a serious and fascinating subject; one I hope to see addressed more often in future films.