Liz and the Blue Bird: A Minor Masterpiece

Most of us will live normal everyday lives. We’re not going to have stories worth writing about because there’s frankly nothing exciting about our lives and we aren’t seeking adventures anyway.

So it is easier to meld into the background and be one of the many forgotten minor characters who will appear for one or two scenes. If someone dares write a story about us, it would be the most boring novel of all time.

And that is what Liz and the Blue Bird (リズと青い鳥 or Liz to Aoi Tori) is about. It is a spinoff film about two minor characters who never got much of a spotlight in the show and their comparatively minor struggles in life. It is dull and unexciting. No one is going to watch this film without suppressing a yawn.

But it is also a beautiful film about two very unremarkable characters and their little struggles in life. There is nothing grand or dramatic about the romance. Yet, there is something special in its approach that makes it feel more down-to-earth and real to me.

It is the kind of film that reminds me why I love Japanese media.

Mizore likes to keep everything to herself and her oboe. No one can really talk to her except Nozomi. Mizore sees the relationship as something deeper though: She depends on Nozomi. Without Nozomi, she would not have played the oboe and find a place in the world.

Her world was shaken however when Nozomi left the wind instruments club for a brief period. Nozomi eventually returned, but Mizore never recovered from the shock. All she can feel is a swelling of emotions — confusion, discord, passion — as she sees Nozomi walk away from her future. She loves Nozomi, even if she knows Nozomi can hurt her. A world without Nozomi is a world not worth living. But she can’t express it and she thus puts the two of them in a quagmire. Mizore can only stroke her hair to elicit some emotional response out of Nozomi who remains cold to her.

Only a song composed and inspired from picture book Liz und ein blauer Vogel remains as their sole medium of communication. Mizore learns that the picture book is a favorite of Nozomi’s and tries to understand the fairy tale and maybe Nozomi herself.

Liz, a lonely woman, meets a blue-haired girl who resembles a blue bird she once fed bread to. They have fun together and Liz begins to stop feeling glum and start feeling elated and joyful for the first time in her life.

But Mizore is unable to empathize with the characters at the end of the book. She doesn’t understand why Liz has to let go of the blue bird in the end, even though Liz needs her.

That’s just unfair.

It’s difficult to talk about the appeal of Liz and the Blue Bird to many people when the two main characters are as charismatic as statues and they come from one of the weakest arcs in the whole Euphonium franchise. The film also doesn’t play by the “rules” found in Hollywood filmmaking either: there isn’t much dialog and it lets uninteresting scenes play out without cracking a joke for the most part.

In theory, it shouldn’t be a film that could be good by most people’s standards. If the film does cross over the Sea of Japan, many people will probably think it’s quite a disappointment from the director Yamada Naoko who gave us Tamako Love Story — a film that used its romance story as a medium to explore coming-of-age stories — and Koe no Katachi — a spectacular visual feast that plays with the expectations found in the romance genre to tell a story bigger than life itself. Liz and the Blue Bird is underwhelming and doesn’t reach the highs of either film.

Yet, there is something to its quietness that transcends the usual “rules” found in visual storytelling; it follows its own “rules” Mizore has placed in her little world. Mizore is not Kumiko, Tamako, or Shouya since she lacks the personality to remotely be anything like a typical protagonist. So she talks through gestures and silence. She brings out more nuance and sentimentality than any normal, proactive protagonist would ever uncover.

Her “silent” narration adds atmosphere into scenes already rich with ambience and tension between Nozomi and her. She makes us aware of how empty the large space is. Mizore has nothing to say in many scenes, but her presence — awkward as she may be as a person — is felt and you want to root for her.

Because she is every one of us ordinary people who wants to make their voice heard.

I like Japanese media not for its flashy sakuga sequences and eccentric big ideas but for its attention to life. While I do enjoy consuming speculative fiction, I prefer reading works grounded in reality. These works remind us that it’s okay to let grand ambitions and historical events fall into the background; we are living in the present, not the future or the past. Anything dealing with the present will obviously become realer and tactile to us.

But when a film like Liz and the Blue Bird comes out, I am often shocked by how much is missing in my conception of reality in fiction.

It is quiet and empty. It resonates with me more than it should. It is a film that’s less of an actual film about fictional characters and more like a documentary of real high school girls awkwardly in love with each other.

It isn’t a film for everybody. Much like the quietist and solipsistic sensibilities found in some Japanese literature, Liz and the Blue Bird is at times unapproachable and inaccessible to a general global public. It wanders about and focuses on seemingly unimportant interactions and events like a disjointed narrative. The ebb and flow of the film thanks to Mizore being utterly passive doesn’t help. But once you stay with it, you will realize each frame is seeped with an emotional prowess waiting to burst open inside Mizore and the viewer.

That’s the catharsis I am always looking for in Japanese media. No spectacle, no weeping. Only a sigh of relief that escapes from you and maybe a little teardrop or so. It is a moment of bliss that reminds us our mundane perception of reality is worth living in. Once that moment ends, it is easy to forget that moment has ever happened. It never desires to leave a bigger impression on people because it sees itself as a normal film. It is an everyday film that embraces its transient nature. It is the soul of what I love in Japanese media encapsulated in a beautiful film about two average girls struggling to love each other.

Such a film can only be described as unpopular and forgettable.

Such a film can only be described as a minor masterpiece.

16 thoughts on “Liz and the Blue Bird: A Minor Masterpiece

  1. Irina April 26, 2018 / 8:11 pm

    It’s quite impressive that you’ve made me so interested in this movie by insisting on how boring it is…

      • Irina April 27, 2018 / 10:04 am

        I may be the only person who didn’t fid that VN particularly tedious

      • Kastel April 27, 2018 / 1:25 pm

        Nah, there’s a lot of people who liked it. I’m glad I somehow got that translated from writing a post on it…

  2. karice April 28, 2018 / 1:12 pm

    Must admit….I find what you’re said about the film interesting at least partly because I’d probably talk about it in a very different way when I finally get to it. I’m also a little curious as to whether we read the film in the same way…but I think it’s very difficult to talk about it in public, for certain reasons ^^;;;

    • Kastel April 28, 2018 / 3:50 pm

      I very much view Japanese media differently from even close friends who’s influenced my taste a lot. I’m always fascinated by the slice-of-life aspects in Japanese media and more drawn to that than, say, the grander themes found in certain genre works.

      It’s kinda how I have a taste for traditional Japanese food. It’s “bland”, but it’s also very subtle and has a good harmony that can only be tasted if you think about why it’s cooked/prepared in that particular way and imagine how it tastes like. I’m very attuned to that kind of stuff, I believe.

      There’s just something about its presentation that reminded me why I fell in love with Japanese media in the first place. I’m just surprised there’s a Yamada work that resonated me right after I thought Koe no Katach would be her best work. I still think about the damn film days later and how it affected my aesthetic sensibilities. I think I’m going to be the obnoxious person who will keep frothing over Liz and the Blue Bird for weeks…

      Basically, I need another Liz and the Blue Bird experience soon. It’s just so “perfect” in what I look for Japanese media that I have a hard time not wishing every piece of media is like it.

      Even though it would be a complete disaster for everyone interested in entertainment lol.

  3. chickenricetm May 9, 2018 / 10:50 pm

    This is a well-rounded and well-written article that’s made me genuinely want to check this movie out now. Thanks for writing this ^__^

    • Kastel May 10, 2018 / 12:02 am

      Thank you for reading this!

  4. waifunut August 1, 2018 / 3:02 am

    I really like this post.

    It’d be difficult to recreate my experience watching Liz and the Blue Bird. If I were to rewatch it, there’d be no chance that I’d get the same impression I did on my first viewing. That’s why I was extremely hesitant to write about my feelings toward the film. If I couldn’t explain those feelings to myself, then why would I be able to break them down for others?

    Well, with most things in life, it’s better to try than to not.

    I won’t lie: there were parts of the film that absolutely bored me. But, upon reflection, those moments where I consciously struggled to suppress a yawn now strike me as the most memorable. Wow, I was really watching anime in Japan with real Japanese people, right there! On both sides of me, there were exhausted Japanese people trying to enjoy seeing two cute girls being cute on the big screen after a long day of work. They were completely engrossed with what was in front of them–the here and now. But I, on the other hand, through my yawns, had naturally went out of my way to express discontent with the entertainment I just paid a whopping ¥1500 to see. When would I get out of here, and what would I do next? Realizing these thoughts were circling my head, I suddenly felt out of place. I felt ashamed of myself. To me, it was a striking reminder that the people around me were different in nearly every way–that we wouldn’t understand each other even if we tried. Is that why everyone was content with watching the film in absolute silence? Is that why immediately after the credits rolled, nobody said a word before leaving–not even remotely acknowledging the presence of anyone around them?

    I found that strange. I hadn’t felt the same way in a Canadian cinema before. Usually, everyone would’ve been fawning over the adorable way Mizore’s mouth formed a perfect circle in the last scene, but there was none of that. So, even though it seemed like the worst idea in the world at the time, I ran up to the guy who had been sitting to my left during the film. Well, everyone had to go to the washroom following that eye-watering story, so he had just finished peeing and it was quite awkward. But we had a fantastic conversation about Yamada Naoko’s crazy talent and well-known obsession with leg shots. We also ran circles wondering whether MIzore and Nozomi were second or third years in the film, to which I still am unsure of to this very day. Then, when there were no longer any fancy directing tricks and moments left to say あぁ、すごかったよね about, the conversation switched over to us. About how he was a 26 year old salary man who had never been overseas and quite shocked to have been spoken to a foreigner, one whom every Japanese person was socially obligated to proclaim 日本語上手ですね at anytime I’d bust out my バラバラ speech concoctions that’d barely pass as Japanese. My first time sitting in a Japanese cinema felt more uncomfortable than ever, but thanks to the very people that made it feel that way, it also felt quite pleasant and fulfilling. It was something that only I could have experienced at that time–you know, with my life’s resources having been poured into making my trip to Japan the best it could be and all. Maybe studying Japanese through those porn games wasn’t a waste of time after all.

    That’s what Liz and the Blue Bird was to me: a striking reminder of where I was and the strange path that led me there. And as a artistic endeavour so engrossed in capturing the small moments that matter, I can say it succeeded in doing everything it aspired to and more.

    I wonder if any of that made sense? Oh well, don’t mind me. I’m just another comment passing through this sea of endless words.

    • Kastel August 1, 2018 / 4:26 am

      wow this is the most moe comment i’ve seen in a while, thank you for writing this

      • waifunut August 1, 2018 / 4:01 pm

        I’ve been in the process of writing a post reflecting on my trip to Japan, and I’ll probably just throw my comment in there to make it as true to my experience as possible, haha. Honestly, I was scared to write about the film because there’d have been no way to turn my experience into something that’d make sense as a standalone post, so I’m thankful to have been able to stumble upon your post and get the motivation to just do it. If you’re interested, I’d love to fawn over the film over discord, though the time I’d have to do so would be limited due to now having to find a job despite my awful resume… In any case, if I do find a job, I’d love to continue to patron your writing!


      • Kastel August 2, 2018 / 5:40 pm

        Please do write a post on your experiences in Japan. I’m curious about it.

        And I’m always happy to talk about stuff on Discord — I’m just preparing for my studies, but I am available to DM/@.

        And I don’t really need money as long as people keep reading my work. Thank you very much!

  5. Dango Gamer November 7, 2018 / 3:36 am

    This is a great article! I was already going to watch this film, and now that I know that it’ll be a slow burn I’m positive that I’ll enjoy it!

    One question, though; you’ve mentioned a few times that Mizore and Nozomi are “in love” with each other. Is this actually the case, or are you simply speaking from your perspective? I don’t think my heart can handle more queerbaiting if I watch with the wrong expectations ^^;

    • Kastel November 8, 2018 / 8:13 pm

      I wouldn’t say Nozomi is in love with Mizore, but the latter definitely is. That’s why the film is quite interesting as a statement on love.

  6. Pingback: Liz to Aoi Tori

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