Colorful – Review

by Miguel Douglas


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Upon reaching a purgatory-like state after death, a dejected soul is informed that he will be awarded another chance at life. He is placed in the body of a 14-year-old boy named Makoto Kobayashi, who has just committed suicide. Watched over by a neutral spirit named Purapura, the soul must figure out what his greatest sin and mistake in his former life was before his time limit in Makoto’s body runs out. He also has a number of other tests he must endured, such as understanding what led Makoto to commit suicide in the first place and learning how to enjoy his second chance at life.

Stemming from the novel by Eto Mori, Colorful is a film the explores the concept of death and how it not only affects the individual, but also those that surrounded them. It’s quite fitting then to have the story begin with a young teenager named Makoto who has just committed suicide, and our unknown protagonist—viewed as a amnesiac spirit—having the opportunity to live again through the Makoto’s disastrous actions. What soon develops is a story that intently looks at the theological philosophy of “rebirth” and the remedying of mistakes made in a prior existence. Since Buddhism within Japan is prevalent, the notion of rebirth is often times used as a metaphoric extension that suggests traits being carried over into a new body. There is a cycle of life and death that is particularly important within Japanese Buddhism and where Colorful gains considerable ground as an examination of the afterlife—even it is met with lighthearted flair.

But Colorful is also a film that delegates much time to look into the spiritual ramifications of suicide on the individual, peers and family. Part of the film’s focus is exploring how the characters that were within Makoto’s life before he committed suicide are viewed and judged by the amnesiac spirit that presently accompanies his body. What we soon discover are the numerous factors that led to his suicide, with the amnesiac spirit beginning to see and experience the factors that led to Makoto to make such a decision. Since suicide within Japan has been a significant problem for the last 20 years, the film selectively chooses to look at how such a dire result can stem from bullying and emotional deviancy within the life of teenager. Remaining socially relevant this way, Colorful gives us a portrait into how the many hardships that the youth within Japan face can ultimately lead to unfortunate circumstances.

With the concept of a youth committing suicide remaining at the forefront of the narrative, the film also gives us a look into how such an action can have an effect on people that knew the person as well. Since suicide is often strictly associated with the individual that performed it, Colorful asks us to see the actions that had led the person we know as Makoto to commit suicide in the first place as somewhat common. We see the culmination of events that led to Makoto’s untimely demise and how the people around him influenced his decision. This is particularly showcased through the likes of his family, all who had contributed to Makoto’s suicide, even if they didn’t intend too. With Makoto being revitalized through the implant of the film’s amnesiac protagonist, we begin to see how his miraculous return brings the family slowly back together and to reach out to each other in ways unlike before. In fact, the film shows just how much the people around a Makoto can change for the better given his return to life. This further extends to Makoto’s peers as well, each who holds a dark secret that Makoto must discover. It’s these spiritual tests that provide the film with a great insight into how perceive our own life.

In this regard, Colorful is not an easy film to digest. In many respects this is what makes it most appealing. Dealing with difficult subjects such as death, suicide and the afterlife are often met with much difficulty within the realm of animation, but Colorful maturely handles these subjects with ease and believability. As the narrative slowly unveils the reasons for Makoto’s unfortunate demise, the film becomes an emotional recollection of love, loss and regret. Director Keiichi Hara—most known for his work on Crayon Shin-chan—vividly conveys this agony in the subtlest of ways. Filled with tense arguments and emotional confrontations, Colorful is presented with a sense of realism that coincides with its supernatural premise.

Considering the foundation of the film is constructed around the spiritual essence of the soul, the film primarily focuses on the interactions of its characters. This is where the film could potentially become a problem for some viewers. Those expecting to see the same supernatural experiences prominently viewed in the beginning of the film to stay consistent throughout will be sorely disappointed. Colorful is more akin to a live-action film in pacing than most animated feature films, so while displays of the extraordinary may sporadically appear throughout, its focus remains on the normality of life and how precious that aspect truly is. The film meticulously examines the intricacies of Makoto’s day-to-day life—which may prove as a bore for some—but given the backdrop of the storyline, it also proves to be one of its strongest strengths. Considering that our unknown protagonist is given a second chance at life through the body of Makoto, realizing the importance of the minutest interactions is crucial towards us sympathizing with the character’s overall dilemma.

The visuals of Colorful are on par with the name of the film as well. Similar to the work of Makoto Shinkai, Colorful beautifully reflects the true-to-life environments in which it so accurately portrays. This further leads into the realism the film presents—save for the spiritual realm, which is represented purely as an otherworldly place devoid of any emotion. With such vivid environments we can view the cast of characters in a more realistic light and consider that they live in world as authentic as our very own.

It would suffice to say that Colorful is a film that appropriately reflects the fragility of life. Offering up an acute examination of the possibility of a second chance to correct ill-conceived decisions of the past, the film certainly provides some plausibility considering its supernatural premise. It’s this correlation between the two elements that makes the film surprisingly enlightening, as it is entertaining. There is an underlying context within Colorful that once revealed, easily transforms the film into an emotionally riveting journey that solidifies its plot as of one spiritual relevance and importance. The film highly succeeds in this regard, becoming a quiet observation on how we view and appreciate those around us, and most importantly, ourselves. This is where Colorful garners its most significant contribution towards the audience, providing an excellent exploration into how we should measure friendships, family and ourselves as momentous aspects that culminate into what we know as life.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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  • Jon Turner

    This movie looks very pretty; is it licensed here? I might be interested in it.

  • Miguel Douglas

    I don’t believe it has been licensed as of yet. A lot of anime films run into difficulty when getting licensed for a U.S. release, more so than television series. Hopefully it will get a release soon in the U.S. though!