Going into this movie, I was half excited and half afraid. There’s really no guarantee that Japanese high school movies end happily and Ao Haru Ride (Blue Spring Ride) is one of those movies that had a bittersweet dramatic vibe. I wanted to do some research first (read: see if there was a tragic ending) before going into it but finally decided that it was worth risking it. By its end, I was super satisfied because it made me feel like a high schooler all over again.
Synopsis: Futaba Yoshioka (Tsubasa Honda) is a cute Japanese schoolgirl that hides her kawaii side because she doesn’t want her “friends” to see her as competition for the affection of the guys at school. She really doesn’t mind not showing her true self because the only guy who ever mattered, her middle school classmate Kou Tanaka (Masahiro Higashide), has already left to live with his mom many years ago. When Tanaka returns, this time under a new name Kou Mabuchi, he stirs up hope in her heart that they were meant to be together all along. However, his new aloof personality makes her feel like she doesn’t even know him at all.
I loved the fact that I didn’t discover the ending to Ao Haru Ride before I watched the entire film. The way the story was presented built up to a strong connection between Yoshioka and Kou which was really obvious to everyone except the two of them. While there seemed to be an invisible barrier that kept them apart for a major part of the movie, their chemistry was so strong that audiences will want to ship them from the first moment they share the screen together until they surpassed all the challenges that they had to go through. It was really exciting to see their story unfold yet feel uncertainty at every corner, trying to second guess whether this will result in yet another unfulfilled love or a happy ending that these two star crossed lovers deserved.
What makes Ao Haru Ride really effective is the establishment of solid back stories, especially for Mabuchi and Futaba. There was a consistency in their relationship from beginning up to the end and there was a genuine connection between the characters. And even though Futaba always said that she didn’t understsnd Mabuchi, it was touching how much she was willing to sacrifice for him. At the expsnse of her own heart breaking, she always went the extra mile to be there, even if Mabuchi abandoned her multiple times.
I loved the depth of the characters and the quality of their friendship. Apart from Mabuchi and Futaba, I liked the supporting characters and their loyalty to this pair. Even though there was a hint of competition between Futaba and Makita Yuri (Izumi Fujimoto), they were really good sports about Mabuchi’s final decision and there was no betrayal or any hint of it even implied. Even Shuko Murao (Yua Shinkawa), despite her tough girl persona, had a soft spot for her gang, especially the open and sponteneous Aya Kominato (Ryo Yoshizawa), whose personality is a complete opposite of every member of their group. When push came to shove however, he too, went beyond what was expected to make sure that his friends will be okay.
This is not to say that Ao Haru Ride did not deliver heartbreaks by the barrel. I was tortured for Mabuchi and what he endured but I felt each and every painful experience of Futaba too. Personally though, I thought the actress could have done more with the role. In contrast, I was just about to strangle Yui Narumi (Mitsuki Takahata) who tried to keep Mabuchi hostage despite his misery by playing the victim card.
All in all, I think that Ao Haru Ride was very poignant and beautiful. It slowly told its story but made it complete so as not to leave out the essential parts of the manga on which it was based. I’m glad that it had a happy ending though. I felt like I deserved that, after this emotional, beautiful film put me in the wringer. Easily one of my favorite Japanese teen movies.