Naoko Yamada, the critically acclaimed director of A Silent Voice, debuts her second feature animated film Liz and the Blue Bird. Originally a coming-of-age novel series, Sound! Euphonium, Yamada creates a film with subtle brilliance. (SYJ: 3.5/5)
Review written by FF2Media Intern Sophia Y. Jin
Liz and the Blue Bird is a tale of a friendship between two high school girls that flows between an animated reality and a storybook fairytale. Opening with a chapter of the storybook, a girl is surrounded by many woodland creatures, with only a beautiful bluebird catching her eye. A bluebird briefly perches on the girl’s hand and then it flies away. This segues into reality showing a lonely girl, “Mizore Yoroizuka” (voiced by Atsumi Tanezaki), sitting on the steps of her school, waiting for someone. When her friend, “Nozomi Kasaki” (Nao Toyama), appears, Mizore follows her.
There is a clear imbalance of power in this friendship showing who is dominant and who is subservient in the friendship. Mizore’s responses are always timid, quiet, and uncertain. Nozomi even asks why Mizore’s “thank you” sounds like a question. Although the original novel series features a full cast of spritely high schoolers, this adaptation focuses on the two main characters, as well as the storybook characters, “Liz” (Miyu Honda) and the “Blue Bird”/ “the Girl” (Miyu Honda).
Liz and the Blue Bird storybook was given to Mizore by Nozomi when they found out they were playing a piece based on it in the school concert band for a competition. The story of Liz and the Blue Bird draws parallels to the high school girls. The loneliness of Liz and her surprising companionship with the Blue Bird echoes Mizore’s loneliness and friendship with Nozomi. The plot depicts how difficult it is to lose something as precious as friendship. It covers the concept of abandonment and how sometimes, whether it is a close friend or a beloved bird, one just has to let them go.
The anchor of the story is the school concert band rehearsing for a competition, playing a piece that is based off of the story of Liz and the Blue Bird. The theme of ‘disjoint’ is prevalent as Mizore and Nomoki are to play an oboe and flute duet.Throughout the animation, they have trouble sounding right for each other—they don’t flow well together. Later, once Mizore gains some insight on how to let go of something you hold so dearly to, she is able to set the music free too. This sparks a realization in Nomoki. The roles are reversed, and thence Mizore becomes the bluebird. Through music, guidance from her teachers, and Liz and the Blue Bird, Mizore learns how to let go of her past with Nozomi, and in doing so, she learns to play fully on her oboe without holding back. Once she had learnt to let go and Nozomi learns that Mizore is an important friend, they are able to regain their almost lost friendship.
The story can become upsetting due to the feeling of loneliness and abandonment, however, the ending is uplifting and the storyline is a clever metaphor of abandonment. The sound effects fit the actions and the thoughts of each character, although some parts of the film could have focused more on wider shots, which would have included more visuals of the surroundings. Despite the sadness of the themes, Liz and the Blue Bird shows how hesitant someone can be over making their own decisions once they are dependent on someone but how freedom and happiness comes to those who learn to let go.
Photo Credits: Kyoto Animation
Top photo: “Mizore” (Atsumi Tanezaki) staring at fish in the school fish tank
Middle photo: “The Girl” and “Liz” (Miyu Honda) in the forest
Does Liz and the Blue Bird pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?
Yes! The main topic of conversation is friendship.