Anime On the Big Screen: “Colorful”

Venue: Arc Cinema, National Film and Sound Archive, McCoy Circuit, Acton ACT
Date: Saturday 17 September 2011
Distributor: Toho Pictures (presented by the Embassy of Japan and the Japan Foundation)
Format: 35mm print, Japanese dialogue with English subtitles
Length: 126 minutes
Production Date: 2010
Currently on Home Video in English (as of writing): No

Originally I wasn’t going to go to see this film, but I thought what the hell and went anyway. I didn’t realise it was a free screening until I got my ticket. Unlike the last time I went to see anime in a cinema (Madman’s Reel Anime mini festival in late 2010), there was a noticeable lack of otaku types in the crowd. Even more interestingly was a lack of people under 20. There was some but not many. Odd seeing as this was essentially a family film. The embassy had some representatives on hand and a table of booklets promoting “Anime Tourism” which look like they were printed in late 2009 or early 2010. These were rather cool as there was a lot of stuff I’d never heard of before. Like life sized “Star of the Giants” and “Kochikame” bronze statues in various cities and there’s even a Go Nagai museum. Still, I find it a bit silly to go to Japan just for anime or manga.

As with all films played at Arc, one of the NFSA’s staff, usually a curator or the cinema programmer, gets up to have a small talk about the film (occasionally getting a lot of facts wrong). Apparently this film was in conjunction with a talk Philip Brophy gave earlier in the week. Allegedly he’s Australia’s authority on anime, which is fucking scary. See his book “100 Anime” for why he’s not. I read his entry on “Plastic Little” for the book and was amazed at the pure tripe he wrote about it. For god’s sake it’s an nipple filled throw-away sci-fi exploitation OVA of little consequence. It doesn’t need to be written about like it was a Kubrick film. Anyway I’d rather gnaw may arm off that hear Brophy dribble nonsense for an hour, so I was glad I missed his talk. I also discovered “Colorful” director, Keiichi Hara’s previous film “Summer Days with Coo” had played at Arc last year. Wish I’d known. We then had the Japanese ambassador do a short talk. His accent was really thick and was a little hard to understand him. Before the film there was a bit of Japanese government advertising which I think was about thanking people in the aftermath of the tsunami and earthquake, but was a little confusing as it looked like an advert for Japanese soccer. Then they played Osuma Tezuka’s 1985 short film “Broken Down Film”. Sure it’s a fun film and the audience enjoyed it, but with the main feature running over two hours, there was no need for any supplementary features.

The plot of “Colorful” has a 14 year old boy being given a second chance after dying. The boy has apparently died with “great sin”, but has no memory of his former life or what he did. But an angel called Purapura, who looks like a young albino boy, convinces him to inhabit the boy of another 14 year old boy named Makoto Kobayashi, who committed suicide. The deal hatched is that this is a trial and if he doesn’t succeed he can’t be reborn. While the parents are overjoyed that Makoto has come out of his coma, the boy is a little perplexed at the suicide because the family seems perfect and he’s even a very talented artist. However he soon discovers that Makoto was bullied and shunned at school and worse the girl Makoto loved dabbles in enjo-kosai (“subsided dating”, i.e. teenage girls whoring to get designer goods) and that his mother is having an affair with her flamenco teacher.

For the majority of the rest of the film, Makoto is an unpleasant little shit. He’s a complete arse to just about everyone. I just didn’t really care about what happened to him or the body he inhabits. Actually in a few parts I felt a bit for him and he did display some really good traits in a few scenes, but most of the time I felt bit depressed at this film. It’s like a rather sad portrait of a lower middle class family with a ton of problems and their suicidal teenage boy. In the last third of the film he befriends an odd looking schoolmate and the both of them end up following the path of a long defunct tramline. This fucking sequence goes for over ten minutes of screen time. The audience doesn’t really need a detailed history of what is apparently a real defunct tram line in Tokyo’s suburbs. It makes no fricken sense and adds nothing to the story.

Then once Makoto has made his first friend in his life, his parents tell him that they’re going to try and get him into an arts school and his older brother (who always shuns Makoto) has to delay his college schooling for year to pay for Makoto’s. Naturally his brother set this up and went out of his way for Makoto and was going to tell him the night Makoto ran out of the house after confronting his mother about her affair, and then Makoto was bashed by a group of high schoolers and his brother found him and saved him – BLARG!!! Of course Makoto wants to go to a public high school with his friend… The emotional blackmail of this scene and the gigantic reveal as to who the person is who inhabits Makoto’s body really, really shat me (it’s sort of obvious from the start as to who it is). In fact nearly everything about this film shat me. It’s a crap morality tale that hammers it’s point home; selfishness is bad, respect those around you, blah, blah, blah. It’s a film that could have easily been made into a live action piece, especially with its melodramatic story. The enjo-kosai angle also betrays its origins as a late 1990’s novel.

You really have to wonder what the Japan Foundation was thinking when they decided to foist this film on western audiences. Surely there are tons of better films on offer. And I don’t mean otaku stuff like “The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya” or the recent “Naohara” film either. There’s plenty of family fare like Madhouse’s excellent “Mai Mai Miracle” which is a highly superior film to this one. As the very tired audience left the cinema, I heard a number of people asking each other, “did you like the film?” which the answer was always “no”. After reading reviews of how great this film was online and the brilliance of director Keiichi Hara, I’m glad I’m not the only one that shares the opinion that film is sentimental, moralistic trash. The animation by Sunrise is decent enough, but I wasn’t sure what is up with the use of photographs as backgrounds two thirds of the way into the film. I knew there was a reason why I had never heard of this film until I saw Arc’s advert for it in the paper. The audience was given a survey so the embassy knew what the audience thought of the film and what they would like to see in the future. I wanted more animation and more drama, but I suspect other people didn’t after seeing the this film. I can only give this film 4.5 out of 10.

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