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not to be confused with that other "colorful"

 

Colorful (Keiichi Hara, Sunrise)

Back to blogging about cartoons I am after what felt like an eternity without internet access (that and other business). As such the backlog I’ve acquired is tremendous, and I think I may even have some of the shows I picked up, and now I’m also way out of the loop when it comes to anime…but anyway, I digress. Two weeks ago (or was it three?) I finally had the chance to watch this film, which I’ve been keeping an eye out on for quite some time (also after I watched Coo). Since I watched Coo, I’ve already taken a liking to the director, for his stubborn and almost methodical approach to his work, not only in terms of the framing and some such technical stuff, but also in terms of the content, like the dramatic aspect. And he does it while still maintaining a high degree of visual interest for the two hours or more his films run. 2010 saw Hara’s return to movies with Colorful, a film which more or less continues in the trend I’ve seen set in 2007’s Coo.

 

Not that I have any experience in it or anything, but I imagine it to be a tough job trying to create a story that tackles such sensitive subject matter such as suicides without taking some kind of moral high ground and preaching down to people. Not only that, but there’s also the matter of entertainment that comes along. Some people, as a result, end up picking up one side and completely forsake another, with oftentimes unsatisfying results. So I was a bit relieved when I watched Colorful. I thought it did a commendable job at combining visual interest and the thematic points of the story without veering off into the realm of the unbearably talky message films. True to Hara fashion too, was the film, as the movie went by smoothly, the events passing by without many glitches or slow spots. It retained a consistent level of interest for the two hours it went on (and it seems only Hara does two-hour-long anime films nowadays, except perhaps Ghibli). Though that’s not to say that I enjoyed it all the way through on the first watch.

Yeah, I actually watched the film two times now. During the first run-through, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I would have expected, though it still was a nice, solid film. There’s just something about the progression of the scenes which didn’t resonate with me, or something. Sometimes I felt that some of the scenes weren’t interesting enough, or that some of them made the film lag at some points, which wasn’t quite what I would expect out of such a film by such a director. I did notice that there was more nice tunes this time around, which gave some scenes more effect and dramatic impact, but not loud enough to distract. But on the second try, I found most of those findings I’ve had reversed. Maybe it was because I’d already known what was going to happen next, but I thought the scenes flowed more smoothly this time around, and the events more tightly planned and constructed. There’s a clear, straight line that links all the events together to the end, and that link was tempered by some nifty drawings and animation.

I would never have expected a studio like Sunrise to offer Hara of all people a film project, but I guess there’s just some nice surprises taking place here and there every once in a while. Though you could always say that they wanted to bank on his critical (or mainly his commercial) success from Coo (it was after all, an award-winning film) and even back to his Shin-chan days. Anyway, it’s just nice to see that Hara was allowed to do his thing in his latest film, even if sometimes I didn’t like it as much as I expected. Colorful retains much of the same Hara flavor–that slow, stubborn pace and approach to drama–as Coo, but somehow I felt less moved by the former. I found the former to be quite detached and the characters incomplete, which I felt strongly in the first watch. By the second time around, I didn’t feel it as much, but that sensation never really went away. I know I’m not that smart, but I wasn’t able to immerse myself as wholly throughout Colorful, as much as I would have liked, anyway.

Thinking about it now, I don’t think it’s a problem with the film itself, since it was planned and presented quite soundly. The sequence of events went by without a hitch, and I sometimes found the flow quite well-done and seamless in some parts. Perhaps it’s the characters themselves, who aside from key moments, looked like they were just there moving around and doing nothing interesting of note, which is odd for me to say especially for a Hara film. I haven’t read the original novel either, so I don’t want to knock on it meaninglessly and arbitrarily like this. Especially in the opening parts, where some of the characters felt as if they were just lifted straight from somewhere and inserted into the action. Though of course, I eventually got used to it as the film went on, and even found some parts quite emotionally heavy and moving.

The individual scenes comprising the film were stitched together quite niftily. I don’t remember much of Coo now, but one thing I’ve noticed about Colorful is that it’s actually quite faster paced, in terms of how the scenes played out and the number of cuts the film made. One moment you have the main character Makoto running around the city with his crush and then some moments later you have him sprawled out on the ground after getting mugged. Though I don’t think it’s that unusual. I guess I had this notion before watching it for the first time that the film would follow a scene more closely from action to action. Still, there’s a high degree of interest–both in aesthetics and story-telling–established from the opening sections right through to the end of the film. Colorful may not have the pivotal point of interest as Coo (which was Coo himself), but the film still works as a whole, and not one event felt as if it could have just been cut and not one of them considered expendable. There’s a definite skilled touch in every scene composed and drawn, which prevents the entire thing from going stale and boring.

Colorful boasts a cleaner, and more streamlined look to the drawings now, in the sense that every drawing followed an established appearance. The characters are also prettier this time around. And the prettier, cleaner drawings are moved quite well, too. The animation is crisp, flowing, and carefully acted, with a clear attention to detail being followed from one action to the next. Of course, since this is a feature film after all, such animation quality is already expected, but still it’s nice to see such carefully rendered actions laid onto carefully drawn characters. As a result the movie is very clean-looking, perhaps even more clean-looking than other films (which I can’t say for sure). At times the film almost felt too sterile in terms of visuals, but fortunately it didn’t reach that point for me. It was the kind of animation I would have expected from a Hara film.

One thing I also noticed in the film was the inclusion of more nice tunes in the soundtrack. It turns out that the music was handled by one Ko Otani (Haibane Renmei), and it was his work that added some more punch to some scenes, though at some points I would have liked it to be silent or more hushed or something. There were some scenes that would have been more moving, to me personally, if the background music hadn’t played loudly. I’m musically challenged myself, but I can’t help but feel that way. But I admit that it was a clever touch to make the music a part of the scene itself–using the noise from the other clubroom to lay down the soundtrack for the last scene with Hiroka and Makoto in the art room–in one such dramatic section. And the guitar work in the running-in-the-rain sequence was nicely done too. I think Otani is also collaborating on the music for that new show Hyouge Mono, so better catch him there as well.

Now that I’ve begun to drop some names, I’d also found some interesting names in the credits for the film. Yuichiro Sueyoshi is once again present, and one of the headlining animators at that. He and Hara seem to have a great working relationship going on, as the great animator had been called upon again despite the change of animation studio. Joining Sueyoshi  is Ryotaro Makihara, who had worked on Masaaki Yuasa’s TV anime from Kaiba to Tatami Galaxy (even directing some episodes of the latter, and maybe the former). I’m not too well-versed on his style, and the film was too clean for me to say for sure, so his cuts remain pure guesswork for me. Interestingly enough, Nobutake Ito, Yuasa’s partner for all of his TV anime, was tapped to do some animation work for the film, alongside the legendary animator Norio Matsumoto, whose appearance in Colorful I think caused some sort of buzz sometime ago–well, his appearance anywhere should cause buzz, anyway. The many cuts of the beautifully rendered hands in the film I would ascribe to Matsumoto, though I’m sure there are some other sections he did. Then there’s also a guy named Hiroyuki Yamashita, the star animator who’d long been involved with Pierrot’s cash-cow Naruto. I’ve watched some clips of his work on Youtube, and he really is a talented guy. He’s still pretty young too, as I remember–I imagine he’s not yet 30. I believe Colorful is his first stint outside Naruto, too. Maybe he’s going to appear in more outside projects now. The scene where Makoto gets mugged and beaten up reminds me of the few sections I’ve seen of Yamashita’s work, but then again I also think that’s one of Matsumoto’s scenes. Which in turn makes me feel sorry to admit that I have some difficulty spotting a Matsumoto section.

While the first hour or so of Colorful may not be as heavy in terms of emotion, it steadily picks up toward the end, when the characters are ultimately fleshed out and their problems resolved in the typical Hara way. Aside from the blaring music playing in the last, climactic dinner scene, it progressed much in the same way as I expected it to. The actions of the characters were followed closely and intimately, which was accentuated quite clearly with the brother handing out the tissues. In other anime that wouldn’t have happened, and in effect, that very simple, unobtrusive touch was, for me, the key to appreciate the director’s style in that section. The film itself is not meant to be a clumsy tearjerker, and I would have been gravely disappointed if it turned that way. It’s quite the sensitive film that not only tackles the subject film of suicide, but also the broader aspects of life–such as making friends, and appreciating the good and the bad that comes with life. The movie was successful in exploring such a thematic point with a caring sensitivity and subtle dramatic touch that manages to keep the film consistently interesting to watch and faithful to the patented style of the director. For me it’s just one of those films that need to be watched more than once to be fully appreciated, which could be a problem for some, but a bonus for others.

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