I know, at least peripherally, that Jazz has had something of bad reputation, somewhat well-earned. It held a long presence in seedy nightclubs and other unsavory, shadowy corners. Yet, much the same can be said of many forms of entertainment. Anime has inappropriate content, “sport” used to refer to deadly gladiator games, and, oh, the massive conning machine that is games at a fair. For all the ill that can be said of all of these, there remains a great deal of genuine fun and beauty to be found. Thus, my personal distance from Jazz has simply been because… well, I didn’t think it would appeal to me.
Then I watched Kids on the Slope.
Realizing, of course, that it could hardly be called a comprehensive sampling, it nonetheless intrigued and entertained me, and even soothed me. I’d heard very little Jazz before, and I haven’t actually sought it out since, but what I heard in this show was… well, I can understand why people love it. There is a spirit to the music, a soul that can’t quite be defined, but it can be felt. Indeed, the lack of rigid definitions is one of its charms, as it breaks free of the mold and leaves room for self-expression, rather than demanding perfect conformity.
That is the heart and soul of Kids on the Slope in a nutshell: breaking free of conformity and making your own destiny.
Set in Japan, in the 1960s, the story follows the friendship and ordeals and growth of primarily two high school boys, and some of their friends. Kaoru Nishimi is a fairly normal boy who is constrained by the expectations of others, but also a talented musician. He’s a bit lonely, though, until he meets a tall boy on the roof. Sentaro Kawabuchi turns out to be a gentle giant, but also very outgoing and exuberant. He, too, is a musician, and gets Kaoru into Jazz, and they play together regularly.
Life goes on, and some pivotal events happen. They hit some bumps and turns in the road, they both experience their first great crushes, they support each other in the good times and the bad. Yet, though they lead the show, they are not all there is to it. There’s a branch of the plot which features a realistic love story, and also speaks to the theme of breaking with conformity in favor of happiness.
One thing needs to be said, though: while the protagonists may break with conformity, they do not shun it entirely. They make their decisions responsibly, rather than with teenage, hormone-driven, reckless selfishness. Then they hold to those decisions not with childish stubbornness, but with mature resolve. They don’t simply find happiness, they make it with their own hands. And that is something I find inspiring.
Kids on the Slope is a drama about growing up and making your own path, but it doesn’t fall into the trap of laying down only one path for the characters to follow. The characters’ love for music, for instance, does not actually become their careers. They go on to do other things and contribute to society in other ways, but retain that love of music and the skill to perform.
Speaking of going on, there is a definite end to the story of these characters as high school kids. It is marked by sudden tragedy, and sacrifice, and a parting of ways, making for the forceful close of one chapter of their lives. Yet the true ending is in the adults they become, and the moment when they are able to reconnect and rekindle the joy they knew as children. They had good times together, and those memories still mean something, even years later. And so, they are grown up.
I didn’t expect to love Kids on the Slope nearly so much, and, it must be said, it’s not like it’s perfect. There is a bit of a slower period towards the end, and then the real end comes out of nowhere, but isn’t life just like that? And that’s what the story is about: life.
It’s a well-told drama and period piece, with a powerful message and worthy theme. The characters are realistic and lovable, as is the plot. And the music is beautiful.
Rating: 9 stars out of 10.