Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 14, 2021 7:41 am 
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KEISUKE YOSHIDA: BLUE ブルー (2021) - 2021 New York Asian Film Festival (Aug. 6-22)


Losers' tribute

Blue is he color of the challenger's corner in Japanese championship boxing matches. The defender's is red. This film about boxing underdogs may teach you something about the sport. It goes into details analyzing matches more than any drama I've seen. You won't learn much about filmmaking. It's quite conventional in that area. But it celebrates a sport so compulsive you stick with it in the face of battering and loss.

The focus is a scruffy gym with the usual old beat-up coach and regular "stars." One, the handsome Kazuki Ogawa (Masahiro Higashide) has a chance. The unfortunate thing is that he may be suffering brain damage. The other, handsome, soulful Nobuto Urita (Kenichi Matsuyama) just keeps on losing every time. The only thing damaged may be his ego; but he always smiles, good humored in the face of a downbeat life. Both these actors almost seem chosen more for their good looks than their physiques: they seem a bit scrawny for boxers, even super welterweight ones. Nonetheless they perform well in detailed competition matches that are carefully analyzed.

Change enters this situation in the person of a restaurant employee, Tsuyoshi Narazaki (Tokio Emoto). He gets trounced at work by a middle school boy he confronts for smoking while under eighteen. He's so humiliated he decides to take boxing lessons - but only to learn how to move like a boxer. He has no intention of doing the deep training. This changes when he turns out to show talent and beats a cocky young guy who starts training at the same time, gets his professional accreditation, and may succeed in beating a tough ex-kick boxer who humiliated Kazuki. This is your surprise, come-from-behind story-line. Emoto is sort of homely looking and his condescending character has no charm. But as he discovers his talent and finds purpose in life through sport, he begins to grow on us, while Urita and Kazuki are relatively static. Their trajectory is simply accepting different kinds of defeat.

The film's unique angle isn't so much the outsider who finds a place in the gym, but the fact hat both its two "star" in-house boxers are both losers, Nobuto, the main character, literally losing every time, and Kazuki suffering increasing mental incapacity. Tsuyoshi's first in-house opponent, whom he beats on style and correct technique, is also a serious casualty, hospitalized later by a head injury and forced to stop boxing. Thus Keisuke Yoshida's movie, for all its loving detail about the sport, stands as a serious warning about its dangers.

James Hadfield, the veteran Japan Times film critic, has published a review . As he points out, Nobuto spends his time giving fitness lessons to middle-aged ladies. The other guy, Kazuki, was a longtime school friend whom he persuaded to enter boxing, and who has now not only eclipsed him in the sport, but taken over his childhood sweetheart, Chika (Fumino Kimura). Chika makes this also a wistful love triangle.

The haunting image is of the soulfully handsome Nobuto, aging yet youthful, smiling in defeat, meticulously analyzing fights but unable ever to put his knowledge into successful practice.

Hadfield calls Blue "a standout film that exceeds the time-honored genre’s usual tropes." Certainly it does show the fruits of what he reveals, that Keisuke Yoshiida, the director, is "a longtime boxing enthusiast in his own right" who "delivers a fantastic homage" to the "sport where individual transcendence results from the most grueling of consummate personal challenges." Blue indeed has these solid qualities. It still isn't a film that's very original in style. It's hard to show originality in such a familiar genre. This feature is, nonetheless, very watchable.

Blue is available in the FLC Virtual Cinema beginning August 9. Get tickets here.

Blue ブルー, 107 mins., opened in Japan Apr. 9, 2021. Its international festival debut was Jun. 5 online at Toronto Japanese Film Festival; also Shanghai Jun. 13, Udine Jun. 25. It was screened for this review as part of the NY Asian Film Festival (Aug. 9) and will show Aug. 21 at Hong Kong (Summer International Festival).


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