Blue Giant (2023)

Director: Yuzuru Tachikawa

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Certification: 12a

Starring: Yuki Yamada, Shotaro Mamiya, Amane Okayama, Yusuke Kondoh, Mirei Suda, Kenji Nomura, Hiroki Touchi, Yutaka Aoyama, Masayuki Katô, Sayaka Kinoshita

Adapted from Shinichi Ishizuka's internationally renowned manga, Blue Giant begins with Dai Miyamoto (Yuki Yamada) hard at work as he practices the saxophone in snowy climates. After moving to Tokyo to follow his dream of becoming the world's greatest jazz musician, Dai's priority is to find a place where he can practice his music, and is overjoyed upon discovering a location under the bridge.

After being impressed by pianist Yukinori Sawabe (Shotaro Mamiya), the pair form a band that is rounded off by new drummer Shunji Tamada (Amane Okayama). Calling themselves JASS, the band grow with each live performance and strive towards their goal of playing at So Blue, the most famous jazz club in Japan.

Things do not begin smoothly, with Sawabe initially unsure due to believing jazz bands do not last long because members use each other as stepping stones to progress. He soon becomes determined to make them into a real band, leading the trio to focus on empowering their sounds. United by how jazz inspires them, the trio's relationships are at the forefront of this tale and brought alive in touching ways.

Outside of their love for music, each member of JASS has their own reasons to persevere. Alongside his dedication to playing the saxophone, Dai wants their group to be brilliant and does whatever he can to ensure they are all on the same level. Sawabe wishes to keep the genre alive, believing that the way forward is not to stick to the same old techniques, so becomes intent on surpassing his limitations. Tamada takes a fantastic journey as his growing desire for music leads him to take up the drums. He may feel disheartened by how far he is behind his bandmates, yet this makes him determined to improve and ensures that his growing confidence and skill are so wonderful to see.

While this story may seem familiar in how it depicts a prodigy dreaming of greatness, the film sets itself apart by not limiting itself to that gaze. It also depicts a community that have become engrossed with the band, including a man moved by the music after attending on a whim, a fan who wants an autograph, and an old man that is keen to see the drummer improve since the first performance.

It also makes jazz welcoming to newcomers, as explanations effectively help those less familiar with the musical genre, such as highlighting how improvisation is where musicians bare their soul. It also depicts the impact that jazz has, while also capturing the passion and determination which bursts forth from the musicians. All of this adds towards an engaging tale which takes emotional turns that leave viewers captivated.

Bringing alive this work is a magnificent animated style, as the musical performances sees the 3D animation effectively integrated into the 2D animation in ways which captures the bands talents. The use of colour breathes life into the sequences alongside the energetic score - courtesy of pianist Hiromi Uehara, drummer Shun Ishikawa, and saxophonist Tomoaki Baba. The combined elements conjures emotions and memories in effective ways that feel transportive, such as the visually phenomenal ways that Dai's history and passion pour out when he first plays music for somebody else. As the story climaxes with a gorgeously realized performance, Blue Giant cements itself as a bittersweet tale about the lengths one takes to fulfil their passions.