Colorful (Japan 2010)

One of the paintings demonstrating the talent for art that Makoto discovers he has. (Image from

One of the paintings demonstrating the talent for art that Makoto discovers he has. (Image from

Colorful is a lovely anime that is well worth seeking out if you hold any preconceived notions about anime as easily classifiable. It’s quite difficult to outline the narrative but the film deals with a range of ‘personal’ and ‘social’ issues associated with adolescence and what can happen when a teenager is caught between the pressures of school and the ups and downs of family life.

The film was screened in the UK as part of the touring Japan Foundation ‘East Side Stories’ Film Festival presenting ‘Japanese Cinema Depicting the Lives of Youth’. At a 126 mins running time the story has plenty of room to breathe and to allow  the audience to reflect – though that probably means that some of the teen audience might be lost if they balk at the slow pace. The narrative begins with a ‘lost soul’ (a ‘sinner’ denied re-incarnation) being given the chance to be alive again in the body of a young teenage boy who has just died after a suicide attempt but who will now be revived. The lost soul has a spirit mentor or guide who fills him in on the back story and gives him instructions as to his ‘mission’. Our hero then wakes as ‘Makoto’ and finds himself in a family where he knows enough to get by but still needs to learn things about his brother and his parents as well as about his classmates at school. This necessity to understand the world around him and to properly ‘know’ friends and family, as well as himself, is the central thrust of the narrative and later it will become clear what will happen if he ‘succeeds’ or ‘fails’ to achieve his goals.

The setting and to some extent the gentle moralising for adolescent viewers is similar to The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (discussed in Chapter 5 of The Global Film Book). The animation style is more traditional but again offers a detailed evocation of Tokyo streetscapes. (Although has several reviewers mention, the title is slightly misleading – the colour palette is more subdued than vibrant.) My favourite part of the film is when Makoto teams up with Saotome, a boy in his class who seems to have solved the problem of being ‘geeky’ (otaku) without sacrificing the possibilities of social interaction. He has discovered an interest in local history and in particular, the last tram or ‘light rail’ line which closed a few years earlier and which is now commemorated by plaques and information displays along the route. As his friend reads from an account of the line, the boys visualise the tram, full of passengers, trundling along like a ‘ghost service’. (I think this impressed so much because the tram’s colour scheme reminded me of the Blackpool trams of my childhood.) Makoto and Saotome occupy the bottom two positions in class gradings but they help each other towards achieving entry to a high school. We also see Makoto’s relationships with two very different girls in his class, each of whom attempts to be friends with him in different ways.

I won’t spoil the other parts of the narrative. Makoto does ‘do good’ as well as be cruel and unthinking –  in other words he is a ‘normal’ adolescent. The narrative also uses melodrama tropes in relation to Makoto’s family situation. There is a ‘twist’ in the narrative that many audiences will no doubt see coming, but I don’t think this spoils what is an affecting film overall.

I’m not sure why this anime has not got a UK release – at least on DVD. It has had a partial release in North America but nothing to match its domestic market release (but beware there is an American dub of the film). The story is adapted from a novel Karafuru by Eto Mori “one of the most celebrated female writers of fiction in Japan today” (Books from Japan). The film’s director is Hara Keiichi who began his career in the 1980s on the seminal TV anime series Doraemon.

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