‘Blue Giant’ movie review: An ethereal, synaesthetic love letter to jazz like no other

A scene from ‘Blue Giant’

Ten years ago, the film ‘Whiplash’ reignited a passion for jazz in popular culture. Today, ‘Blue Giant’ takes this a step further, delving into the enthralling and soulful essence of jazz as an art form that is facing an uncertain future.

Yuzuru Tachikawa, celebrated for ‘Mob Psycho 100’, now brings Shinichi Ishizuka’s celebrated manga ‘Blue Giant’ to life through a captivating blend of visual art and sound. Hiromi Uehara’s exhilarating jazz compositions create a narrative flavored with aspiration, melody, and camaraderie transcending the cinematic experience.

Blue Giant (Japanese)

Director: Yuzuru Tachikawa

Cast: Yuki Yamada, Shôtarô Mamiya, Amane Okayama

Runtime: 122 minutes

Storyline: Dai Miyamoto’s encounter with a live jazz show deeply moves him, sparking a vow to become the world’s top saxophone player

While the narrative of a provincial teenager aspiring for greatness in the big city isn’t new, ‘Blue Giant’ approaches it with such vigor and novelty that it never feels trite. Dai Miyamoto, voiced by Yuki Yamada, embarks to Tokyo guitar in hand, fueled by a fervent love for jazz and lofty ambitions. He meets Yukinori Sawabe, voiced by Shôtarô Mamiya, a gifted albeit despondent pianist disenchanted with the fading spotlight on jazz. We witness Dai’s infectious zeal bumping up against Yukinori’s jaded attitude, their interactions ultimately forging a compelling and poignant relationship.

Completing their ensemble is Shunji Tamada (voiced by Amane Okayama), an exceptionally enthusiastic yet beginner drummer. Despite initial clumsiness, his vigor balances the group’s dynamic, paving the way for an alliance as turbulent as it is heartening. They form Jass—a name birthed by serendipity yet encapsulating their sincere, albeit quixotic, aspirations.

A scene from ‘Blue Giant’

A scene from ‘Blue Giant’

‘Blue Giant’ triumphs at showcasing music’s awe-inspiring capability to transform. For Dai, jazz becomes a spiritual pursuit, a gateway to rapture. Yukinori, on his end, wrestles with a fear of the impromptu and a longing for flawlessness, revealing inner conflicts. Shunji embarks on a discovery of self, learning to blend his eager energy with his bandmates’ prowess. Each character’s development is inextricably linked to their musical maturation, rendering their performances expressions of their deepest selves.

As the band Jass performs together, ‘Blue Giant’ transforms into an astounding sensorial escapade, offering a symphonic spectacle that might even rival the Spider-Verse. Its 3D animation, which captures the musicians’ fluid motions, melds seamlessly with hand-drawn details, crafting an immersive synaesthetic experience. Such scenes are not just visual add-ons to the accompanying soundtrack but visual manifestations of it, highlighting how jazz thrives on the unpredictability and engaging in a visual and auditory dialogue that takes one’s breath away.

A scene from ‘Blue Giant’

A scene from ‘Blue Giant’

But ‘Blue Giant’ does not solely consist of grandiose performances. It also zooms in on the personal hurdles and dreams of its characters, offering a grounded perspective to their musical journeys juxtaposed with the pragmatic challenge every aspiring musician faces: making ends meet. These introspective moments offer a vital counterpoint to the thrilling onstage successes.

Connoisseurs of jazz will savor the movie’s tribute to the genre’s storied history, specifically the influences of icons like John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis. The film title skillfully combines two of Coltrane’s influential albums, ‘Blue Train’ and ‘Giant Steps’, and appears to symbolically acknowledge the turbulent life of professional musicians, whose striking influence wanes yet leaves a lasting impression—a motif skillfully weaved within the film’s narrative arc.

In their seminal performance at the esteemed So Blue jazz club (inspired by Tokyo’s legendary Blue Note), the animation ascends to climactic heights; the group’s coherence ignites the stage in a vivid explosion of color and sound. The artwork becomes a psychedelic display, flourishing with rainbows and bursts of color that amplify the music’s potency. With each artistic stroke, the animation captures the essences of fingers on piano keys, saxophone breaths, and the intensity of the drums, translating the emotive depth and spontaneity of jazz into a palpable, electrifying encounter.

This is Jass. This is the soul of jazz. And this is anime reaching an unparalleled pinnacle.

‘Blue Giant’ is now showing in theaters.

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