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Original Title:
Aoi tori

Japan 2008


Kenji Nakanishi

Hiroshi Abe
Kanata Hongo
Ayumi Ito
Osamu Shigematu
Hajime Inoue
Hiroyuki Kishi
Moe Arai
Yuko Araki
Hiroto Ito

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The Blue Bird

Story: Murauchi (Hiroshi Abe) is a substitute teacher and teaches a class that has brought quite some trouble to the school. The student Noguchi has been bullied by his classmates so bad that he attempted suicide. He survived and changed schools. Meanwhile the media has calmed down as well, every student of that class had to write an essay in which he reflected about the incident and slowly normality is restored in the class. However, Murauchi's first act as the new teacher is to bring back Noguchi's table to the classroom and greet him every morning. At first the students also make fun of the fact that Murauchi stutters. As he points out himself he may not be very eloquent but he makes up for it with honesty. And with his honest words he aims at getting the attention of honest listeners. The students and their parents aren't happy about Murauchi opening old wounds, though. One of the students, Sonobe (Kanata Hongo), is especially irritated by Murauchi's actions as he believes that he himself was one of the culprits whose name was written in Noguchi's suicide note which puts an especially big weight of guilt on his shoulders. Does the new teacher not only try to show the class their past mistakes but also how they can deal with them?

Review: Bullying is a topic that plays a major part for students at any school, no matter what culture. Especially at schools in Japan as well as in some other Asian countries where the pressure to perform is particularly high there is the need of someone to let off your steam on. Oftentimes that someone is another classmate and it's not unusual that in an unspoken agreement the whole class is pronouncing one student the main victim. "The Blue Bird" is a quiet drama that picks up exactly here and tries to shed light on the problems and consequences of bullying. Interestingly it isn't about that sort of violent bullying but a more subtle form that is as devastating in its cruelty, though. The drama also explores how the culprits deal with the consequences of their actions and how the parents and the school board members handle the case. A real discussion of the subject doesn't seem to be desireable by anyone of them and so the case is soon locked up in a dark place and forgotten like Noguchi's table.

However, Murauchi knows that children don't learn from their mistakes and can't reflect about them by simply getting the homework from the school board members to write an essay about the incident since all of them will read the same in the end. Here a sense for conformity shines through that simply isn't given and that actually lead to bullying in the first place. Every student is different and not every one of them is getting along with his neighbour. Thus, in order to somehow survive school there is the need for a common victim to torture. While the students believe that they have shown remorse by writing an essay Murauchi wants to show them that they haven't been reflecting seriously at all. A task that everyone has to finish by himself. No one can tell them that they will have shown remorse by writing an essay not exceding a certain amount of words. Everyone needs to do penance in his own way.

Still, how do you teach something like that to students? It is a road with many obstacles and Murauchi also doesn't seem to have the perfect answer. But his approach looks promising and so the movie's honesty is also reflected in the fact that not every student is responsive to the honest words and actions of the teacher in the end. For Murauchi honesty is very important, yet it isn't just about being honest to others but to oneself as well. As the teacher tries to make the class understand that it is about showing responsibility for your actions the school board members want to let bygones be bygones and even feel that the substitute teacher's actions are a bother. Instead they install a suggestion box with the name "The Blue Bird", which actually proves to be rather useless since the students aren't really sure what they are supposed to do with that. Someone even constanly puts in a paper that reads: "What is the blue bird?" It's also possible that Murauchi himself is the one responsible for that piece of paper, but we never get a clear answer to that.

The audience also doesn't get any answer to what demons plague the teacher exactly. There are only a few hints, a picture showing him with his former class leads us to believe that he maybe has already experienced bullying himself. Maybe he even was one of those teachers who shut his eyes before the bullying of one of his students. Maybe he tries to take responsibility for his missteps by showing his new class the right way. Hiroshi Abe ("Tokyo Raiders", "Chocolate") can bestow something melancholic upon his character with his subtle acting. His somehow depressing way of walking and his stuttering show his inner pain and even in his good-natured glance you will find it at any point in time. The story unfolds in a very quiet and pleasent way, sometimes it may take a bit too much time but the good acting makes this a minor problem.

Unfortuately, there is still a major flaw to be found in "The Blue Bird" which makes the whole drama hit chobby waters. The screenplay, which is based on a novel by Kiyoshi Shigematsu, is constructed in an artificial way and so this leads to some scenes that simply don't feel true. Students suddenly start to talk very honestly about their feelings without any reason for them to do so and many of the situations are just aiming at conveying the film's message. You can feel that and so eventually there isn't much left of the honesty that is so important in the movie. Instead the moral of the story is forced into our view so obviously and without any restraints at all that we are actually unknowingly distancing ourselves from the subject. If "The Blue Bird" had been more subtle in its approach it really could have become a nice drama. The way it is the constructedness of the film is a real bother. Nonetheless, the movie still deserves to be recommended if for its subject alone.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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