Blue Giant: The BRWC Review. By Joe Muldoon.
Few films have captured the essence of jazz as energetically as Blue Giant. Based on the popular manga of the same name, the story is that of Dai Miyamoto (Yuki Yamada), an eighteen-year-old former high school basketball player. After one day discovering jazz and picking up a saxophone, the infatuated teen finds his calling. As all the most revered titans begin, he practises his newfound love daily, fuelled by raw ambition and the drive to one day join the likes of Coltrane, Getz, and Parker.
After leaving his native Sendai for the neon-soaked backstreets of Tokyo, he’s immediately enticed by the inviting warmth of the Take Two jazz bar. The owner, an apparent aficionado (and who quickly becomes one of the most important figures in his life), briefly bonds with him over a Sonny Stitt record and she suggests that Dai visit the Jazzspot club, where he soon finds himself in the company of cocky pianist Yukinori (Shôtarô Mamiya). After convincing his friend Shunji (Amane Okayama) to pick up the sticks and learn how to play drums from scratch, they form a jazz trio, appropriately naming themselves Jass.
As the trio start to hit the small stages of Tokyo’s scene, they develop a collective goal: to play the prestigious So Blue jazz club -the best in Japan, no less- whilst they’re still teenagers – all of them being eighteen, they’re hardly left with a year to accomplish their dream. Jass’ performances are nothing short of incredible, which is due in no small part to the wonderful Hiromi Uehara’s mind-blowing score. Exciting though musical manga is to read, one natural shortcoming is that you can’t hear the music – with this adaptation, the problem is solved. And its answer is simply marvellous.
This is a film that proudly wears its influences on its sleeve, and this will likely please most jazz fans. The Coltrane influences in particular are obvious, perhaps most overtly in the source material’s very name, an amalgamation of Blue Train and Giant Steps, arguably two of the greatest albums of all time. Reminiscent of Sonny Rollins’ musical sabbaticals spent on the walkway of the Williamsburg Bridge, Dai often practises by bridges at the banks of the Sumida river, blaring his soulful sax tunes into the void. The influence soaks right through to Uehara’s score, the effervescent hard bop pulse powering its way across all of Jass’ compositions.
Each performance is animated with the ferocity and adrenaline of a battle, the varying vibrant hues of gold giving each frame a feverish heat. Each finger stroke over a key, breath into the mouthpiece, stroke of a stick, is drawn with the greatest care conceivable, signs of scuffs and wear and tear proudly unhidden. As each piece reaches its crescendo, so increases its visual intensity, oftentimes transcending into the fantastical, with rainbows and inverted colours dashing gleefully across the screen.
Any instrument is difficult to animate, but perhaps few are as difficult as drums because of the sheer physicality and precision they demand – yet the animators did an astonishing job of bringing Shunji’s sweat-soaked Evans kit to life, something that will impress every drummer watching, this very reviewer included. Musicians can easily pick apart a live-action actor’s performance if it’s clear they have no idea how to play their respective instrument, but it’s clear that true love went into animating each and every instrument present in this picture.
Blue Giant is a marvel, it is a joy, it is a spectacle. Helmed by director Yuzuru Tachikawa (of Mob Psycho 100 fame), it marks itself as a feat not only of animation, but also of cinematic scoring. Comparisons to other jazz films will invariably be raised, and it finds itself absent of the toxicity of Whiplash and plentiful of the heart of Soul. Rather than being a story incidentally broaching the genre, it is a film about jazz first and foremost. It is a story of passion, of self-expression, of determination, and it is art in its finest form. Blue Giant opens in UK cinemas on Wednesday 31st January.
By Joe Muldoon
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