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

‘Blue Giant’ captures the chaotic beauty of jazz with an infectious zeal, and the profound connections it fosters among those who play and those who listen

Updated - May 24, 2024 05:10 pm IST

Published - May 24, 2024 05:04 pm IST

A still from ‘Blue Giant’

A still from ‘Blue Giant’

A decade ago, J.K. Simmons drove Miles Teller to the brink of musical transcendence in the climactic final sequence of Damien Chazelle’s Oscar-winning debut feature. Where Whiplash reignited a cultural flame for jazz, Blue Giant’s explosive ode to the genre, cues itself in rediscovering the allure of jazz’s rebellious, soul-stirring spirit of a genre in decline.

Directed by Yuzuru Tachikawa, renowned for his work on the anime series Mob Psycho 100, Blue Giant adapts Shinichi Ishizuka’s eponymous manga into a visually and aurally-arresting experience. The film’s exhilarating animation and irresistible jazz score by the extraordinary Hiromi Uehara weaves a tale of dreams, music, and human connection with an artistry that transcends the screen.

Blue Giant (Japanese)
Director: Yuzuru Tachikawa
Cast: Yuki Yamada, Shôtarô Mamiya, Amane Okayama
Runtime: 122 minutes
Storyline: When Dai Miyamoto hears a live jazz performance, he’s touched on a deep level, and vows to become the world’s best saxophone player

The story treads familiar ground — a small-town teen striving to make it big in the city — but it does so with a freshness and intensity that keeps it far from cliché. The protagonist, Dai Miyamoto (voiced by Yuki Yamada), leaves his hometown, saxophone in tow, with a burning passion for jazz and a dream to become one of the greats. In Tokyo, he encounters Yukinori Sawabe (Shôtarô Mamiya), a talented yet cynical pianist who is disillusioned by the waning interest in jazz. Their dynamic is electrifying, with Dai’s raw enthusiasm clashing against Yukinori’s seasoned skepticism, yet ultimately harmonising into something profound and beautiful.

Rounding out their trio is Shunji Tamada (Amane Okayama), a complete drumming novice whose boundless enthusiasm compensates for his initial lack of skill. Their chemistry crackles with tension and mutual respect, setting the stage for a partnership that’s as tempestuous as it is inspiring. Together, they form Jass; a name chosen by a happy accident, but embodying their earnest, if somewhat naive, ambition.

A still from ‘Blue Giant’

A still from ‘Blue Giant’

Blue Giant excels in portraying the transformative power of music. For Dai, jazz is a spiritual experience, a conduit to euphoria. Yukinori, on the other hand, grapples with his fear of improvisation and his desire for perfection, reflecting a deeper internal struggle. Shunji’s journey is one of self-discovery, as he learns to sync his newfound passion with his bandmates’ prowess. Each character’s arc is deeply intertwined with their musical evolution, making their performances not just displays of talent, but expressions of their innermost selves.

When Jass is in full swing, Blue Giant offers a sensory experience that is nothing short of rhapsodic, delivering a spectacle of symphony that would give the Spider-Verse a run for its money. The 3D animation, capturing the fluid movements of the musicians, interweaves seamlessly with hand-drawn elements in a remarkably synaesthetic experience. These scenes are not mere accompaniments to the music but rather extensions of it, with the animation bending and warping to reflect how jazz pivots on spontaneity, creating a tête-à-tête between sight and sound that is as breathtaking as it is unparalleled.

A still from ‘Blue Giant’

A still from ‘Blue Giant’

Yet, Blue Giant is not without its quieter, more intimate moments. The film doesn’t forget to narrow down on the personal struggles and aspirations of its characters, grounding their larger-than-life musical ambitions with an aspiring musician’s most formidable hurdle: making a living. These moments of introspection provide a necessary counterbalance to the high-octane performances.

Jazz aficionados will appreciate the film’s homage to the genre’s rich legacy, particularly the influence of legends like John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. The title itself is a clever amalgamation of Coltrane’s seminal albums Blue Train and Giant Steps. But it also seems to be a metaphorical nod to the life of a professional musician — those who burn brightly like a young blue sun and leave an indelible mark before their light fades to dark — a theme poignantly captured in the film’s culmination of the trio’s journey.

During their climactic performance at the coveted So Blue jazz bar (based on Tokyo’s famous Blue Note jazz bar), the animation reaches a fever pitch; the band’s synergy transforms the stage into a pulsating epicentre of colour and sound, the notes visually expanding and contracting with a mesmerising elasticity. The screen erupts into psychedelic patterns, with rainbows and inverted colours dashing gleefully across the visual plane, amplifying the music’s intensity. Fingers glide over piano keys, breaths push through the saxophone, and sweat-soaked drumsticks beat with frenetic energy, translating the spontaneity and emotional depth of jazz into a vivid, almost tactile experience.

This is Jass. This is jazz. And this is anime at its zenith.

Blue Giant is currently running in theatres.

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