The Blue Bird (Aoi Tori) 青い鳥  2008 – Nakanishi Kenji

****/5

Bullying has been a widely acknowledged problem in Japan, and this isn’t the first movie to explore it. But Aoi Tori, based on a novel by Shigematsu Kiyoshi, does something most other movies dealing with this issue fail to do. It explores the gray areas, between outright physical violence against and the virtuous defense of the weak, in which many instances of bullying probably occur.

Abe Hiroshi (who has a few outstanding roles in TV dramas and won the Mainichi Film Concours award for his role in this movie) plays Mr. Murauchi, a stuttering substitute teacher who comes to a school in the aftermath of bullying incidents, which the entire school wants to forget. Murauchi actively dredges up those memories, forcing the students to reassess their own responsibility in the matter they’d rather move past.

This film is worth watching and I don’t want to give anything away. Not because there are any plot twists or clever tricks the directors pulls—there aren’t any—but because watching the story gently unfold is better done without much knowledge of the relationship of each student to the incident in question. I am not a fan of heavy-handed message-driven movies, but I can say I enjoyed this one. And you probably will, too.

Notes:

The director, Nakanishi Kenji, won the special mention SIGNIS Award for this film in his directorial debut.

Do not confuse this film with a TV drama of a similar name, but an entirely different story.