Four-Eyed Stranger: Blue Movies: The strange color and quality of Taiyo Matsumoto's Blue Spring
Alexander Theroux calls blue "mysterious" in his book-length meditation The Primary Colours: "It is the colour of ambiguous depth, of the heavens and of the abyss at once." That sense of ambiguity and overall strangeness seems to suffuse every one of Taiyo Matsumoto's wavy lines in his short story collection Blue Spring.
The color carries more importance than being the title. Five years after the book was published in 1993, Matsumoto added to the mystery when he wrote of the work:
"No matter how passionate you were, no matter how much your blood boiled, I believe youth is a blue time. Blue -- that indistinct blue that paints the town moments before the sun rises. Winter is coming."
Another notable aspect of this tremendous little book (which was published in English in 2004) is its cinematic quality. Before we even reach the table of contents, we pass through three sketchy pages that seem to follow at least six distinct moments. Each is a haunting, silent narrative in its own right: a baseball player looks with a kind of fear into the air (the blue sky), makes the catch, and then we cut to a shot of an utterly defeated batter at home plate; a young man watches a plane fly overhead, takes hold of his girlfriend's hand, and together they jump off the roof.
These preliminary short stories are laid out vertically, making them visually reminiscent of film strips. Once we get into the collection's seven main stories, there are odd "camera" angles everywhere, and there are moments when odd-shaped panels and layout give split-screen and jump cut effects.
Two filmmakers that come to mind when reading this book are Takeshi Kitano and Ralph Bakshi. Kitano's film Kids Return conveys a similar sense of the aimlessness the school-aged characters experience. There's a poignant scene in Matsumoto's story "Revolver" where a character holds a gun to his head and grins. This image resonates strongly with Kitano's famous pose in Sonatine. Evocatively, the character in Blue Spring is even standing on a beach at the time, just as Kitano did.
In Matsumoto's story "This Family Restaurant Is Our Paradise", an image of Jimi Hendrix brings to mind Bakshi's amazing animated film American Pop. After that, Bakshi's weird rotoscoping and Matsumoto's bendy faces becomes hard not to conflate.
A movie was made of Blue Spring, ostensibly focused on the first story, "If You're Happy And You Know It, Clap Your Hands". That twisty tale followed a gang of glue-huffing delinquents, and was reminiscent of Hiroshi Takeshi's epic manga, Crows. It was this comic, which ran in the 1980s, that was ultimately so successful, it spawned an equally huge movie, directed by Takeshi Miike.
Despite their similarities, Blue Spring seems to differ most strongly from Crows in Matsumoto's emphasis on melancholy and loneliness, as opposed to the latter's in-your-face action.
This is the first of two comics-related columns I'm writing for PopMatters. Each column aims to appreciate and examine an aspect, moment or theme from within a given work, and to draw connections to similar works of art outside the world of comics:
- Four-Eyed Stranger appears every alternate Thursday and looks at classic manga reprints, and unusual modern work by Asian artists that might not fall under a strict definition of manga (for example, Taiyo Matsumoto, or the collection Liquid City).
Takeshi Kitano's Kids Return (the entire film, in several parts)