Grand Blue (Guranburu)
Japan (2020) Dir. Tsutomu Hanabusa
Probably to the surprise of no-one, I never went to college or university, instead going straight from sixth form into a job. This means my knowledge of what life is like in further education is based on the stories of decadent exploits of the students we read about in the papers. Thank god for cinema to show us this isn’t really the case.
Iori Kitahara (Ryo Ryusei) wakes up in the middle of his university campus stark naked and with no memory of how he came to be in this predicament. Fleeing from security and snapping phone cameras Iori manages to find his underpants and escape to his uncle’s diving shop called Grand Blue where he hides inside. The next morning, Iori is in the exact same situation as before, only this time he meets another student, Kohei Imamura (Atsuhiro Inukai) and they escape together.
After ten days of the same thing happening, Iori is determined to find out what the cause is, eventually learning that he and Kohei had joined the rowdy diving club Peek-A-Boo, which uses his uncle’s shop as their HQ. Comprised of older students, their antics consist of huge drinking parties, part of the initiation for Iori and Kohei. Meanwhile, Iori’s cousin Nanaka (Aya Asahina) works at the shop, along with her younger sister Chise (Yûki Yoda), also a diving enthusiast.
You are possibly wondering where the actual plot is. Well, you’ve just read it. Grand Blue is an adaptation of a manga by Kenji Inoue, which has also been turned into an anime, which was my top show of 2018. A truly hilarious, guilty pleasure of a show, this live action version had a lot to live up to, and with just 108 minutes to do it justice, it is no wonder director Tsutomu Hanabusa and co-writer Manabu Uda chose to use the basic set-up for their script and add their own interpretation of it.
Ordinarily, this would be sacrilege and the film be deemed a failure on this basis alone but Hanabusa has managed to capture the spirit of the anime despite veering off from the source material. In other words, key moments of the story appear here but are presented in a slightly different way to suit the narrative Hanabusa is sharing. Most of the key characters remain but not everyone is fleshed out as they are in the anime due to time constraints.
The first 35 minutes are devoted to the recurring morning after ritual of Iori and Kohei’s public nudity and daring escapes. By the eighth day they are given clues written on their bodies, which lead them to CCTV footage of what happened to them but now by whom or why. Finally, when they wake up in a futon and still dressed, they get the answers that have long eluded them.
Borrowing from US movies with the fraternity scenario of older members inducting the newbies into the fold, there is an irony in this was supposed to teach the lads discipline in wanting to learn about scuba diving – but how can they do that when they are off their faces all the time? The seniors take it easier on them after ten days but whenever the word “Vamos” is uttered, it is party time again.
With the cast being mostly teens, the usual slice-of-life side stories dominate, primarily Chise’s crush on an oblivious Iori who fancies Nanaka instead, whilst Nanaka is a sis-con, something thankfully toned right down from the anime. More female eye candy arrives in the form of Peek-A-Boo’s lone female member Azusa Hamaoka (Yuko Ogura), portrayed as a bit of a fun time girl, and Aina Yoshiwara (Ren Ishikawa), formerly of a tennis club who hides behind Gal make-up to impress the boys there but is rejected as a joke.
Shockingly, aside from a Baywatch spoofing slow motion running scene with Aina, the fan service isn’t about satiating the male gaze, even with the ladies all being absurdly attractive. If anything the male leads are the ones who are naked most of the time (humorously censored of course), so this is one for the girls on that front, and even more rarely it is actually congruent to the plot.
However, if you know the source material, the changes will be blatant, not just in the tweaking of the scenes but also in the characteristics of the leads. For example, Kohei’s otaku bent is not given the same level of exposure here as it is in the anime, nor is the hook of Iori being a good city boy corrupted by the hedonism of his seniors pondered for more than a minute.
For a diving club they do very little diving but like the anime, the film takes a moment to explain the procedures, bespoke sign language, and equipment required for the benefit of the uninitiated watching (i.e. most of us). Again, the anime and manga were able to focus more on this but Hanabusa chose to save the best till last in satisfying this remit, with intermittent training sessions serving as tasters in building up to this underwater climax.
Visually, they are stunning to watch, if a little brief, but certainly make one want to take the plunge into the crystal blue waters and experience it for ourselves. It would appear the cast got to do this for real too, when not being filmed in a water tank, and had a blast to boot. The clarity of the camerawork and the lilting musical score create moments of ethereal wonder and serenity, suggesting the best place to escape to is below the surface.
Despite the obvious limitations against it, Grand Blue is a perfectly fine and serviceable adaptation of this riotous, bawdy story, bristling with energy courtesy of the committed and game cast. Not all the humour hits as much as it does in the anime, but Hanabusa delivers enough of its essence to have a good time with this film.