by Kim Morrissy,

Twittering Birds Never Fly -the clouds gather-

Twittering Birds Never Fly -the clouds gather-
The sexually masochistic yakuza boss, Yashiro, isn't the type to warm up to others easily. But when Chikara Doumeki, his newly hired bodyguard, catches his interest, he reconsiders his "hands-off" policy with subordinates. As Yashiro's invitations fail, the yakuza boss finds out his bodyguard has a very personal reason for staying at arm's length.

Saezuru Tori wa Habatakanai, or Twittering Birds Never Fly, is the first in a series of film adaptations of Kou Yoneda's popular adult BL manga. I hadn't realized that this would be a series when I sat down to watch this, but I'm relieved to hear about it, because as a standalone film, this wasn't satisfying at all. Twittering Birds Never Fly: The Clouds Gather- doesn't follow a film's standard three-act structure, and instead of providing a definitive ending, the story merely cuts off.

There's a lot to like in the concept here, though, and it's easy to see why the manga took off in the first place. The story follows the complex relationship between Yashiro, a yakuza boss with a masochism fetish, and his stoic bodyguard Doumeki. At first, Doumeki seems standoffish and does not respond to Yashiro's sexual advances, but as the film goes on, Doumeki's feelings become clearer and their relationship takes on an introspective tone. This film may have its fair share of smut, but the nuanced characterization shines through in every scene, and I felt that the sexual themes were appropriate here.

I am surprised at just how much sex this film manages to depict. Although the sex scenes themselves are always brief, they're a constant throughout the film's entire run time. Naturally, I don't expect this kind of content to be for everyone, especially because of the frequent depictions of orgies and extreme masochism. Although the central romance isn't abusive, it's no fairytale romance either; it's the story of two broken men who don't quite know how to love probing at each other. There are also references to rape and familial abuse, so all in all this is definitely not the vanilla kind of adult romance.

Although I haven't read the manga, I do get the feeling that this story may work better in its original format. It's a story about day-to-day life and the subtle changes that occur in the relationships between people. Of course, it's also a story about the yakuza, so there are plenty of drama and tense confrontations, but it never felt like those scenes were the main point. Each "mini-arc" in the film ends with a moment of quiet contemplation, signalling the end of a tiny chapter in the characters' lives. There were many parts when I wished the film could have taken a pause so that I could let the moment sink in.

The mellow and atmospheric feel of this film is accentuated by H ZETTRIO's jazz piano soundtrack. I cannot stress enough how much the music makes this film. The slower-paced refrain of the "Birds Fly" main theme plays at multiple occasions, and it's usage is absolutely perfect every time. When combined with the colors of Shinjuku nightlife – cool and dark colors offset by the faraway tinge of gaudy lights – it's easy to be immersed into the film's atmosphere.

On the other hand, the animation isn't particularly noteworthy. It's never off-model, but the animation does feel mostly static. I hope you aren't interested in watching this film specifically for the sex, because the animation (or lack thereof) in the sex scenes are the most disappointing parts in terms of visuals. In general, though, there were never any money shots or really any moment at all that you can point to as a cinematic moment. In all honesty, I've seen plenty of TV anime with stronger animation and visual impact.

All of this underscores my overall problem with Saezuru Tori wa Habatakanai, which is that it doesn't work well as a film. It never felt like this film was building up to anything in particular, and when a sort-of climactic moment finally happens at the end, it's more of a rushed cliffhanger than a true climax or turning point for the narrative. This definitely felt like the kind of adaptation that was made specifically with manga readers in mind, who are already familiar with how the story goes. Throughout the film, events happen rather abruptly, and there's little attempt to tell a focused narrative. Although I am glad that the animated version will get a continuation that will hopefully resolve the loose ends from the first film, I have to admit that I'm overall disappointed with this particular entry. Here's hoping the follow ups are better.

Overall : C
Story : D+
Animation : C
Art : C+
Music : A-

+ Relationship writing has a lot of nuance and sensitivity, incredible soundtrack, strong atmosphere
Story does not seem suited to the film format, plot lacks focus, mediocre production values

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Production Info:
Director: Kaori Makita
Screenplay: Hiroshi Seko
Storyboard: Kaori Makita
Unit Director: Kaori Makita
Original creator: Kou Yoneda
Character Design:
Akiko Kumada
Tsuyoshi Kuwahara
Art Director:
Takayoshi Fukushima
Masaru Satō
Chief Animation Director: Akiko Kumada
Animation Director:
Hitomi Hasegawa
Tadashi Hiramatsu
Miyuki Honda
Satoshi Ikeda
Yuriko Ishii
Noriko Ito
Tomoaki Kado
Haruna Katsu
Shin'ya Kitamura
Yuki Muraosa
Issei Nagamatsu
Daisuke Niinuma
Tomomi Noda
Mariko Oka
Shiro Shibata
Mami Takino
Shiho Tanaka
Yuuko Yamada
Art design:
Ayumi Aso
Saina Cisse
Si Yu Fu
Tetsuro Kodama
Ayumi Miyakoshi
Miku Nagaike
Minoru Okochi
Sound Director: Kisuke Koizumi
Director of Photography: Mitsuhiro Sato
Executive producer: Yukiko Takase
Producer: Yuka Okayasu

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Saezuru Tori wa Habatakanai: The Clouds Gather (movie)

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