When I first heard of Her Blue Sky, I felt apprehension as well as anticipation. The anticipation came from the fact that it was a youth drama. It was the involvement of Mari Okada (part of the movie’s notable Super Peace Busters creative team) as the writer that gave me pause. I liked some of the shows that she was involved in, such as Hanasaku Iroha and her directorial debut Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms. However, I was also sorely reminded of last year’s O Maidens in Your Savage Season and my rewatch of NagiAsu: A Lull in the Sea. Which category would Her Blue Sky end up in — a satisfying watch or a disappointing, maybe even excruciating, experience?
Well, I’m both glad and relieved to report that it’s the former.
When Aoi and Akane Aioi’s parents pass away, Akane decides to take care of Aoi rather than follow her guitarist then-boyfriend Shinnosuke to Tokyo. 13 years later, Aoi has become an aspiring bassist and also dreams of going to Tokyo, but the memory of her sister’s choice still remains in her mind. One day, Shinnosuke makes a surprise return to their town, but that’s not all. The teenage Shinnosuke (simply referred to as Shinno) from their past also makes an appearance as a “living spirit”, and Aoi falls for him.
Her Blue Sky is a youth drama, but there’s also a large focus on the main adult characters and their respective paths in life. Akane’s choices are questioned by Aoi and other acquaintances, but Akane shrugs off their concerns. Meanwhile, Shinnosuke returns to the town as a professional musician, albeit a backup one to an enka singer. He’s also cynical and moody, a far cry from the energetic and positive-minded Shinno that Aoi remembers. Was going to Tokyo and leaving Akane behind the wrong decision after all?
Akane and Shinnosuke are easily my favorite parts of Her Blue Sky. While Akane doesn’t bemoan choosing Aoi over Shinnosuke and possesses admirable strength, there’s nevertheless a small but clear tinge of sadness about her. Meanwhile, Shinnosuke appreciates the opportunity he has been given by his employer but knows that something crucial is missing from his life. The movie doesn’t spell out everything on their minds but invites us to speculate. Even then, it’s easy to empathize with these two thirty-somethings. They make the movie feel surprisingly mature, which is one of its main assets, — the other being the soundtrack — and I wouldn’t have minded if Aoi had played second fiddle to these two. I liked Aoi well enough, but I wasn’t convinced by her feelings for Shinno, even though how she deals with those feelings is crucial to both the development of the story and herself.
I can let the uncompelling teen romance slide, however, because Her Blue Sky is ultimately more about the choices you make in life. There’s Aoi, who feels that Akane made the wrong call and should’ve gone to Tokyo before coming to understand her sister’s actions. Then there are Akane and Shinnosuke, who are living in the aftermath of their decisions. And finally, there’s Shinno, who is disappointed in what his future self turned out to be. The interesting thing is that when romance factors in, it’s not necessarily the right answer. While Weathering with You’s protagonist chose romantic love over the world, Her Blue Sky doesn’t put romance on a pedestal. There’s no perfect option, but it wants us to develop a keener eye for the value within our choices.
As I watched the movie, I realized that, despite being initially drawn to the youth drama aspect, it was the adults that kept me engaged. I do like Aoi’s character for her seriousness (and bass-playing), but I very much preferred the adults’ grounded and tender scenes over Aoi proclaiming her feelings loudly or running away after a dramatic moment. The first time Aoi ran away, I received unpleasant flashbacks of NagiAsu: A Lull in the Sea. Luckily, it doesn’t happen all that often.
Aside from Aoi’s melodrama, I have several other complaints. I don’t mind the magical realism in Her Blue Sky, but the reason behind Shinno’s existence is rather vague and things get a bit too fantastical near the end. Aoi’s friends are good company, but they feel underbaked. As mentioned before, I’m not convinced by Aoi’s romantic feelings for Shinno. Lastly, the climax isn’t very impressive. However, none of these were deal-breakers and they didn’t hinder my engagement with the movie.
When I first entered the cinema, I expected disappointment for Her Blue Sky. I thought the magical realism aspect would go awry and ruin the drama, or the drama would prove to be underwhelming or cringey regardless. However, I’m glad that the movie proved me wrong. It’s not amazing, but it feels very human. That’s always admirable, and I left the cinema feeling way more impressed and content then I expected to be.