Friday, September 23, 2016

Movie review/synopsis, "Aozora Yell"

I haven’t really seen anything written about this in English so I thought I would at least try to write some kind of review or synopsis.  I'm in Japan again for the last two weeks of September, mostly watching baseball, but the country seems to have decided to rain the entire time I'm here.

Yesterday (Sept 22) was yet another rainy day and so the baseball games I wanted to see were rained out, so instead I went to see a movie called Aozora Yell.  I had seen posters for this outside Jingu, with a manga-style picture of a high school baseball player and a high school girl with a trumpet.  And that is literally all I knew about the movie going in, since I'm not into manga, but it is apparently based on a fairly popular baseball manga that just recently finished.

Funny thing is, I went to see it because I thought it was a baseball movie, but actually, it was about 35% baseball and about 65% marching band.  Fortunately, I like baseball movies AND I like band movies (like, “Swing Girls” is still one of my favorite Japanese movies ever).

The main character in this movie is a girl named Tsubasa Ono.  Tsubasa is short and shy and mostly stares at her feet a lot and has a quiet voice and has very little confidence.  She wanted to come to Shirato High School because when she was young, they represented Hokkaido at Koshien (did I mention it takes place in Sapporo?  I kinda felt like Shirato is kinda based on Hokkai) and she loved hearing the brass band playing, and vowed that one day she would play trumpet for Shirato at Koshien.

The other main character in this movie is a boy named Daisuke Yamada.  Daisuke is a catcher for the school’s baseball team.  Ever since he was very young, he also saw the same Koshien game where Shirato represented Hokkaido, and he also decided that one day he would play at Koshien for Shirato.  Daisuke is super-tall (the actor playing him is 185cm, but even in the manga they show him as standing a full head over Tsubasa) and very confident and is such a nice guy that it is actually cartoonish (intact, that is my one issue with the way Ryoma Takeuchi played him — and maybe it’s just the way he is in the manga — but Daisuke has like, no depth at all, he’s just a super cheerful super nice boy with a super smile and a lot of apparent baseball skill).

Tsubasa and Daisuke first meet when they are entering school at Shirato.  The school has their awards display case for brass band next to their awards display case for baseball, and so the two of them are staring at the cases and are both like, in unison, “I’m so glad I’m here, I can’t wait to…” and Daisuke completes the sentence with “play at Koshien” and Tsubasa completes it with “play at the national band competition”.  They both laugh and share that they had both seen that same Koshien game as kids and wanted to come to Shirato ever since.  Daisuke says, “Well, I’m going to definitely get to Koshien with the baseball team.  So when I do, will you be there in the stands cheering for me?” and Tsubasa, in that typical holy-crap-i-cant-believe-this-good-looking-guy-is-talking-to-me way is like “…okay…” and he’s like “Great!  It’s a promise!  Bye!” and walks off.

Naturally Tsubasa and Daisuke end up in the same homeroom.  I almost worried it was going to turn into one of those plots where Tsubasa gets bullied by the popular kids, but instead, after all the students introduce themselves, a really pretty girl named Himari comes up to Tsubasa like “we were at the same middle school!  Let’s be friends!”.  Himari, also, I cannot figure out her motivation exactly, but her personality is really bright and for whatever reason she really does become friends with Tsubasa.  And Himari is like “let’s go hang out after school!” and Tsubasa’s like “…actually I want to join the marching band…” and Himari’s like “omg what, it’s soooooo strict” but then Tsubasa explains that she made that promise to Daisuke and all.

In the meantime there’s another boy in their homeroom named Kido, who also joins the baseball team with Daisuke.  Kido has a huge crush on Himari.  He wears glasses and at first it isn't clear what he’s doing baseball-wise but along the way while working with Daisuke as a catcher and best friend, Kido eventually becomes the school’s ace pitcher.  (Ironically the actor who played him was also an ace pitcher in rubber baseball at his own high school.)

Tsubasa goes to join the brass band and it is… difficult.  Like, she tells them how she’s there because she wants to cheer the baseball team, and to play trumpet, basically everyone is like “WTF, you should just leave, little girl”.  The brass band director (played by Juri Ueno, who I immediately recognized as having played Nodame Cantabile 10 years ago — holy crap) is like “Can you inflate this fuusen balloon from zero?  No?  Come back when you can.”

So Tsubasa goes off and trains to get better lung capacity and eventually comes back and joins the club, and they start teaching her to play trumpet, and so on.  I found this part actually pretty unbelievable because I joined marching band in college having not played a brass instrument before, and they started me on euphonium, and while I was able to learn to play a B flat scale in 3 weeks and marched with the band that semester, it took me a LONG time to be able to play decently, AND there is no way I could do that with a trumpet.  Trumpet playing is HARD.  The embouchure alone is tough to master, let alone playing it in different registers and making it sound good.  But whatever, it’s a manga and a movie and so of course she magically becomes adequate within a relatively short period of time.

Of course, all of the band members are kind of jerks towards her, or at least many are.  There’s a boy named Mizushima who entered the band and already gets all the trumpet solos even as a freshman because he’s just that damn good.  He’s also just that damn big an asshole, and pretty much almost everything he says to Tsubasa in the first year of the movie is something to the effect of “why won’t you quit the band already, you suck”.  He is somehow the only boy in the trumpet section (to be fair — the JHS I taught at, the brass band club was entirely female as well, so I guess it’s not that weird that 70% of their brass band club in the movie is female).  The section leader is named Kasuga and she apparently is REALLY pissed that the school hasn’t won a gold medal in the 3 years she’s been there.  There’s a girl named Mori who is really good at trumpet but sprains her wrist at some point in the movie and then hides it from the rest of the band (but Tsubasa sees her leaving the doctor’s office, and Mori threatens her if she tells anyone).

Anyway, despite all this, Tsubasa does persevere and stays in the band and does her best, and Daisuke does his best in the baseball club, and as freshmen, they do go to the prefectural final game, where Shirato barely loses the game, and it’s at least somewhat Daisuke’s fault.  His senpai gives him batting gloves that he wrote “go to Koshien” on.

Written artifacts are kind of a thing in this movie.  There’s the gloves, and also, one of the days when Tsubasa is crying in their homeroom after getting yelled at by Mizushima and the rest of the trumpet players, Daisuke comes up to her and draws a happy face on her shoes like “look, you can stare at your shoes… and when you do, you can think of me and get courage”.  Also, a side plot is that during a festival, Tsubasa and Daisuke get pushed together date-like by Himari and Kido (in a somewhat funny scene where the two of them are spying on Tsubasa and Daisuke and Kido is like “hey you know… we could also go out together huh?” and Himari’s like “haha very funny I have no interest in you silly boy”).  So Tsubasa and Daisuke go off to write ema — the wooden prayer tablets — and Tsubasa writes hers as “aim for the National Band Competition”.  Daisuke won’t show her his, but (spoiler) later in the movie she comes back to the shrine to pray for him after he gets injured, and it turns out he’s written a bunch of them over the years that all say “I want to take Tsubasa to Koshien”.

At the end of freshman summer Tsubasa does confess to Daisuke that she loves him and he’s like “I’m really sorry but I have to focus on baseball”.  And Kido and everyone are like “are you an idiot?  you clearly like her and she likes you and…”

Time cuts to two years later.  They are all 3rd-years and the brass band still hasn’t made it to nationals and neither has the baseball team.  Daisuke is captain of the baseball team, Mizushima is the president of the brass band club, and Tsubasa still kinda sorta sucks at trumpet but is doing her best (but, of course, she ends up like, mentoring a freshman on how to play better, and that freshman makes the cut for ensembles while Tsubasa doesn’t).  There’s a new manager girl in the baseball club named Akane who has a huge crush on Daisuke, so she’s always telling Tsubasa to get lost whenever she comes to watch the team play.  (She eventually comes to her senses when she sees how much Daisuke actually likes Tsubasa and gets inspired by the marching band but it takes a while, and until then she’s a total bitch, but I’ve seen that plot before so it was pretty obvious what would happen).

I’m going to cut out on the synopsis here for two reasons: 1) it really would be spoiling the ending if I tell what happens during their 3rd year, and 2) I have no more time to write this right now, so if I leave it hanging, I won’t get around to posting it.  Suffice it to say that it is a happy ending and almost every one of these plots and characters gets tied up in a way that is beneficial for them (although it is never clear whether Kido and Himari ever hook up or not).  

I enjoyed this movie because I enjoy cheesy Japanese high school baseball movies.  Also, even though Daisuke has so little depth as a human being, Ryoma Takeuchi is so adorable that it’s worth watching anyway, even if he seriously looks like a living manga character (you have to see him smile).

Tsubasa is a surprisingly deep female character to be honest — while her growth from shy mousy freshman into confident senior is what you expect out of the movie, I felt like her conflicts were real and her emotions were real, and only mildly cartoonish, all things considered.  When Daisuke turns her down the first time she is distraught, but he says he wants to be friends and she does her best to stay friends with him, even saying at one point like “does it bother you that I’ve said I like you?”  Tsubasa also takes a lot of shit from Mizushima and yet she keeps trying to get him to crack his stubbornness and his gloominess, and finally does get him to smile and to work with her and to bring the band together.  Like, she has some real moments where you don’t expect her to be the one who steps out to support the upperclassmen who have been terrible to her, but she does.

If you’re not into predictable cheesy Japanese high school movies based on shoujo manga, though, this definitely is not the movie for you.  You’ll cringe every time Daisuke smiles, you’ll want to smack Tsubasa for having no backbone, and you’ll find everything in it pretty predictable.

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