Rotterdam 2024 Review: BLUE GIANT Hits All Notes

Tachikawa Yuzuru's jazz film is an honest look at the backbreaking work needed to do your talent justice.

Editor, Europe; Rotterdam, The Netherlands (@ardvark23)
Rotterdam 2024 Review: BLUE GIANT Hits All Notes
The Japanese anime director Tachikawa Yuzuru isn't quite a household name yet, despite having directed the stylish Death Parade series and the totally (and tonally) bonkers series Mob Psycho 100. But his film adaptation of Ishizuka Shinichi's famous manga Blue Giant may go a long way to changing that. At the International Film Festival Rotterdam, the jazz anime scored big with the audiences, and I have spoken with several reviewers who chose it as their favorite film (animated or not) of this year's festival.

In Blue Giant we follow Dai, a boy who fanatically practices playing the saxophone. His dream is to become a famous musician, and to do that he moves to Tokyo. He moves in with Shunji, an old classmate and checks out the local jazz scene. Impressed, Dai asks experienced piano-player Yukinori to join him for a band, and Yukinori grudgingly agrees based on Dai's immense talent. Meanwhile, Shunji discovers the joys of jazz himself and starts tapping a beat while the other two practice... and despite Yukinori's misgivings, manages to become the group's regular drummer.

IFFR2024-BlueGiant-ext1.jpgThe three form an uneasy band but do noticeably grow, and Yukinori decides to set an almost unachievable goal for them all: to play at Tokyo's most respected jazz venue, within a year, while they are still teenagers...

Describing music in prose or comic book format is easy because it is impossible: you can get away with writing "it sounded terrible" or "it was the most beautiful music he ever heard". You can, however, visually describe the ecstasy felt, and the reactions. For the film version, director Tachikawa Yuzuru didn't have the luxury of just describing. As you hear the sound in the film, he had to work miracles with the film's soundtrack, and especially the accurate depictions of how the instruments are played. For that, he used rotoscoping and 3D-modelling, and the end result is sometimes a bit jarring when you can clearly see we are not in the realm of 2D animation any more (also, hand sizes seem to vary a bit at times).

Clunky or not, it literally takes a second stage to the music itself, which is where the money went it seems. There are extended jazz sequences in Blue Giant and these are exhilarating even to a non-fan like me. The film's story isn't all that special but it is fantastically executed, with the three main characters getting their due: the unimaginable talent who needs to learn to be reigned in a bit, the experienced musician who is reaching his creative limits, and the newbie who is constantly battling his inexperience. All three of them are shown to conquer their difficulties through backbreaking work and practice, practice, practice.

Earlier, the festival started with another teens-in-a-band film, Jonathan Ogilvie's Head South (reviewed here) in which people learn how to play, no matter how badly, within days. Blue Giant sits on the other end of the spectrum, closer to something like Whiplash: these guys want to be the best, stars who burn so bright they hurt to look at, and the film shows honestly that no matter how much talent you have, that doesn't just happen by itself. It takes blood, tears, toil and sweat and you get to see all of those in abundance.

Come for the likeable characters, stay for the music and don't let the predictable life lessons bother you. Blue Giant does nothing new perhaps, but it does everything it does right, and it makes for a fantastic crowd pleaser. Audiences in Rotterdam awarded the film a whopping high rating of 4.6 (missing a 4.7 by the tiniest of fractions) out of 5.

Blue Giant

  • Yuzuru Tachikawa
  • NUMBER 8
  • Shin'ichi Ishizuka
  • Shôtarô Mamiya
  • Amane Okayama
  • Yuki Yamada
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Yuzuru TachikawaNUMBER 8Shin'ichi IshizukaShôtarô MamiyaAmane OkayamaYuki YamadaAnimationDramaMusic

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