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'Aoi Haru' is a very bleak movie that derives its beauty precisely from the haunting sense of nihilism. The almost ruined school with its dingy rooms and dense graffiti is not just the set to the action, it seems to represent the characters' lack of prospects. A movie that makes something of a pun on the word 'adolescence' (together the kanji for 'ao' and 'haru' read as 'adolescence') cannot help but make considerations about the future but these are without a doubt not promising. The school-ground is a yakuza recruiting ground in the most literal of ways and the initiation into gangs is not so much a temporary revolt from troubled teens as it is a preparation for a life of crime. Dreams are hinted at only to be thoroughly dashed. Violence runs rampant but is handled soberly by a camera that know just how much to show to elicit a reaction.
It is against this background that the main story unfolds: a friendship between two boys gone wrong. Matsuda (Kujo) gives a stunning performance, his cool demeanor matches sociopathic tendencies very well and make him believable as a ruthless and detached young man with little interest even in his own life. The clapping game will have anyone hold their breath and is shot in such a way as to make it even more disturbing. Arai (Hirofumi) is also very competent as the bosom body whose fall out seals his descent into darkness.
A strong soundtrack adds to the impression of things going wrong in an artistic way. Juvenile delinquents or not the human aspect of boys in a sticky situation provides reasons for the viewer to see past the almost intrinsic seediness of it all. Ryuhei cutting Araki's hair as they discuss what to do when they grow up is surprisingly moving and the climax of the movie brings it all home in a painful but excellent way. Apart from these two leads there are minor characters that are equally interesting such as the sickly boy fascinated with worms (that despite being so peaceful frightens Kujo because he has a purpose), a psychopath in the making, the boy that wants to go to Koshien. All people that are adrift without guidelines.
Grownups are not absent but they appear sparingly and only the little person teacher that teaches the boys how to water flowers is a positive influence. The focus is strongly placed on the young actors and they truly do shine.
'Aoi Haru' is realistic despite being a very artistic movie. It should be seen back to back to Miike's 'Crows Zero' that is a take of the same concept in a much more fanciful and less bleak way. But 'Aoi' is brilliant in its own right by adhering so steadily to an ethos of bleakness and loss. Growing is, without a doubt, not easy.
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