As a rule, I’m not going to blog the same shows here on RC that I do on Lost in America, with the exception of a couple of Spring series that I’ll be taking over from Kiiragi. But as we get ready for Summer to start, I asked to make an exception for Colorful. Why? Simply, because I really want this movie to get as much attention as possible. I admit it, this one is personal – I love the film and I want to promote it any way I can.

I’ll say up front that I know this isn’t going to be to everyone’s tastes. It’s definitely a character-piece, without a lot of action or breakneck pacing. Some will find it depressing, and even the director admitted that it’s more like a live-action drama than a traditional animated film in some ways. But I’m going to be honest in sharing my views on what I like and what I don’t, and when we disagree, I know it’ll be a respectful and interesting conversation. That’s one of the things I’m really looking forward to about writing for RC. And don’t worry, most of my reviews aren’t nearly this long!

This may not be the first review of Colorful you’ve read – it’s been out on DVD in Japan for a couple of months, so I’m a little late to the party. But being as how I’m new here to RC, I wanted to share my thoughts on this fantastic film.

The movie was released in Japan in 2Movie0, the product of a joint project by several studios, by far the most well-known of which is Sunrise. Director is Keiichi Hara, who in addition to directing most of the “Shin-chan” adaptations also wrote and directed 2007’s Kappa no Coo to Natsuyasumi (Summer Days With Coo). It wasn’t a huge box office success, but caused quite a splash critically, winning several International animation prizes both in Japan and outside.

To say that this movie hit close to my heart is an understatement. While my own clumsy scribblings would bear little resemblance to this adaptation of Eto Mori’s 1999 novel in quality or execution, in theme and sentiment it feels very much like something I would have written if I could. I adore magical realism, and even more the coming-of-age story – the bildungsroman. It feels like this used to be a much more common type of story in anime back in the day, when lots of series and movies were about young men and growing up – but I guess it’s unfashionable now to create anime about boys and the struggles they face. So in that sense Colorful is a throwback – indeed, the novel was written during that earlier period in anime I refer to – but that just makes it all the more worthwhile to me.

The numbers tell an indisputable story – teenaged boys are about six times more likely to kill themselves than girls. It would be a long post indeed if I were to list all the things Hara does right with this film, but foremost among them might be the way he captures the pain of his protagonist, Kobayashi Makoto. Boys are expected to internalize their sadness and anger – to “man up” and “keep a brave face”. The things Makoto has to deal with – his parents troubled relationship, terrible bullying at school, an unrequited crush on a girl “out of his league” – are very real and very believable. Boys deal with this things all the time, in Japan and elsewhere. And sometimes, they deal with them by trying to end their lives.

I won’t spoil the major plot twist that comes at the end of the film, just in case you haven’t seen it – but I will say that I guessed it fairly early on. Rather than lowering my esteem for the film, though, it bolsters it – because it feels natural and logical. Frankly, it’s how I would have written it if it had been my story. The basic premise is that a lost soul shows up in the afterlife, guilty of a sin it cannot recall. An odd little “angel” named Purapura – an impish schoolboy in a short-pants suit and tie – tells him he has a choice. He can go on a “homestay” – inhabit the body of a recently deceased human and try to remember his sin, atone and earn his way back into the reincarnation cycle. In this case, the human is a 14 year-old boy named Makoto who has just attempted suicide with his mother’s sleeping pills. Just as he expires in his hospital bed, the wayward soul enters his body and opens his eyes to a strange, unfamiliar world.

With only the occasional visits from the snarky Purapura as guidance, the soul must navigate the maze of Makoto’s life – and it’s no bed of roses (pun intended). Makoto is small for his age, friendless even before his suicide attempt (which his schoolmates don’t know about), and struggles badly in school (32nd out of 32 in his class). A decent high school seems an impossible dream, he pines helplessly for the beautiful but remote Hiroko, and he alone bears the knowledge of a terrible sin against the family committed by his mother – a mother who helplessly tries to reconnect with a totally remote and hostile child returned from the dead. Only through his painting and sketching did this strange boy find any respite from the troubles in his life.

The casting here is crucial. Makoto is played by 14 year-old Kazoto Tomizawa (who also played “Coo” in Hara’s earlier film) and Purapura by 12 year-old Michael (that’s his only name, oddly enough) and – as I’ve said before in reference to stuff like Moribito and Hourou Musuko – the degree of realism from casting real kids in these roles is indispensable to the success of the film, though undeniably a risk. The entire cast is stellar but those two – especially Kazoto-kun – carry the weight of the movie on their shoulders. There’s no denying that the emotional pitch of the story is pretty intense, and no punches are pulled in dealing with serious and ugly issues. Suicide, bullying, Enjo Kosai – things adults would rather pretend didn’t play roles in their children’s lives. But they do, and they’re dealt with here in a frank, matter-of-fact way. Not sentimentally but not heartlessly either. The tone is just right – this could easily have been either bleak and depressing or corny and sappy but it’s neither. it’s painful, honest and true. Makoto is not painted in bright colors. This is a very troubled and unhappy kid, downright unlikeable at times. But he’s real.

One more element that seems to have largely disappeared from anime is the theme of male friendship among teenagers. Not the superficial stuff you see in most series, but real, heartfelt friendship – and just what a lifeline that can be to a kid in trouble. It says something about the unconventional choices this story takes that rather than romance (frankly, a remote concept to most real 14 year-olds) or the troubled family relationship, it’s ultimately Makoto’s friendship with Saotome that proves the most crucial relationship in his life. Anyone who has even been a teenage male will tell you that for all the love of family and the longing for a girl, very often in practical terms the best friend is the most important person in your life. And very often the one that ultimately helps you make it through the long, dark time that is adolescence.

I’ve referred to Makoto Shinkai as a poet of animation. While this story is a little more linear and complex than Shinkai’s standard, and the art not at the same level, I look at this as a visual poem as well. The gorgeous backgrounds, character designs and straightforward animation style merge with a fairly subtle but impacting soundtrack to create what’s more than anything else, a mood piece – a collection of emotions that slowly opens up in the viewer over the 125 minute running time. No detail is overlooked. Even a seemingly minor scene involving Makoto and his new friend Saotome tracing the paths of old streetcars is wonderfully moving and beautifully executed.

Again, I won’t spoil the twist by talking too much about the ending – but for me, it was an ending that fit perfectly in place. Life is difficult and always will be, but that’s rather the point. As much as I love this film and I think every parent (or older sibling, and there’s a great one in this story) should see it, I especially wish every teenager could see it – especially guys. A story that moves and entertains while casting light on the real issues people confront is a rare and valuable thing.


  1. I watched it a few weeks ago. While the concept story is good, the development of story and characters is not that good. They can’t depict well what they’re trying to say, and the artwork itself is bad for today’s standard.

    final note: I only cried when Angela Aki’s Tegami is playing on the background, heck, that song doesn’t need any scene to make me cry >_>

  2. Fair enough. It is a lovely piano piece, isn’t it? Very – er – Shinkai-like, the way he uses it there.

    I think the artwork has a very distinct style – deliberately simplistic in some parts, yes – and certainly not lush & gorgeous like Shinkai, as I said. But I found it very effective for the material, and I especially thought the train sequences were very well-done.

    Thanks for commenting – this is the fun part for me!

  3. Thanks for sharing Enzo! I must admit my interest in this film sparked when you mentioned it in your introduction, and I’m glad to have read your impressions of it here 🙂

  4. Wow! never expected to see colorful here.

    It’s such a shame that Show Spoiler ▼

    I still remember having a heated conversation with some other people about this. Seriously, the creators should’ve done a better a job trying to get the message across, and not alot confusing people.

    I love the movie, except the bromance part and the the predictable ending

    1. Alec, thanks for spoiler tagging – but I think that’s a convo better handled in chat or email than here. I still remember that heated conversation on the other board…

      And FTR – that’s an interpretation of events I don’t agree with. Feel free to chat at me or email me if you want to dig deeper, but as a public service I think we shouldn’t discuss it here.

    2. Its a shame that the mother wasnt slapped everytime she appears on the screen. Oh well, at least she suffers, which you will rarely see happen to whores in reality.

      The bigger problem with this movie is that it has no reason for existing, there is nothing here that wouldnt work out better as a live-action (even considering how generally awful Japanese at live acting, compared to, say, Chinese).

  5. interesting I just found out about this movie and now you come to RC and make a post about it. Now I am really motivated to watch it this weekend then I will read all you have to say about it. Maybe I will have some thing more interesting to say. Anyway, welcome.

  6. I’ve been trying to find more anime movies to watch, I may give this one a try. It looks very interesting. I feel like I’ve barely seen any anime movies.

    Anyone have any recommendations?

    I’ve seen 5 CM per second, Howls Moving Castle, Spirited Away, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Princess Mononoke, and that’s all I can think of off the top of my head.. All of those great movies though.

    1. This is from my movies list.

      Akira, all the Ghost in the Shell movies, Millenium Actress, Nausicaa, Paprika, Perfect Blue, Sky Crawlers, Steamboy, Summer Wars, Sword of the Stranger, Tekkon Kinkreet, The Place Promised in Our Early Days, Tokyo Godfathers, Totoro, and Voices of a Distant Star. Phew 17 movies… and you’ll love most of them if those movies you listed really are your favorites.

      And I hope you just forgot Spirited Away, because that was the first Miyazaki movie I eversaw.

      1. Haha thanks for the list, Spirited Away was the first Miyazaki film I ever saw as well. I remember it being on during the month of Miyazaki on Toonami. That was an awesome month. I believe that’s what got me into anime. I loved that movie.

        I’ve seen The Place Promised in Our Early Days, Akira, and Nausicaa, forgot to add them ^_^

        Perfect Blue and Summer Wars were movies I was definitely considering watching.

        Thanks again 🙂

    2. Watch all the films by Studio Ghibli, Satoshi Kon and Makoto Shinkai. Not all are amazing, but the vast majority are at least enjoyable and worth a watch and the best are truly great. Off the top of my head, Tekkon Kinkreet is definitely worth a shout. I can’t actually think of any others that were that good at the moment but that should cover most of them.

      1. Oh yea and of course if you liked the Girl Who Lept Through Time, then watch Summer Wars which is the same directors latest film with a very similar feel and is overall just as good IMO.

  7. Happy first post!

    Anyways, what I love about this movie the most is the design of the faces. It’s really a nice change from the over-sized eyes we usually see now. Talk about a blast from the past.

    1. I agree. The art style is magnificent. In my opinion I think it adds to the realism of the story by allowing the artists more facial expression you can’t achieve with the more common character designs. If you think about it, most anime with that kind of art direction usually have a profound story to tell or instill some strong emotion in you after it’s all over. i.e. Dennou Coil and Kuragehime.

  8. @Divine: Please make more exceptions for this guy. 😐

    Enzo-san, you really brought out the color in this movie. (not intended but lol) I watched a week or two ago as well and it was the best 2+ hours I spent this year sitting on my butt. Relishing in the film’s sheer beauty (environment, characters, expressions, story developments, themes, etc.) was simply effortless. I got absorbed in the film’s pace in no time. But I’m a fan of the genre so I can’t speak for others.

    Don’t know much about the people behind this but I will keep an eye out for Shinkai’s works now.
    (Actually, I would love to see another.)

    ps: Your posts are fierce! But they are very enjoyable to read. I like how you come off to be a walking Wikipedia.

  9. I was curious about this movie. i was going to wait to rent a DVD when I got to Japan this November but I’m so glad someone blogged about it since not many information could be found in English websites. So Thank you 🙂

  10. Hmmm. Thanks for the feedback, Guys. I’m taking it positively, though please be assured I’m not trying to sound like an encyclopedia (that’s like wikipedia on a piece of paper ;P) or a HS English teacher! And as I promised, my reviews are normally much shorter. But I really dug this movie and I wanted to be an advocate in addition to a blogger.

    @ Shirt. The director of this one is Keiichi Hara. I like his other film “Summer Days With Coo” (not quite as much as this one) but he’s probably best known for directing most of the “Shin-chan” adaptations. I only mentioned Makoto Shinkai because I think this is a somewhat poetical movie in style, and I think of Shinkai as a visual poet. But then, I do highly recommend any and all of Shinkai’s movies – most especially “5 CM Per Second”. He’s an animator who creates astonishingly beautiful visuals but I think this was the first film where his story and characters lived up to that.

    1. Ahh, thanks for the correction. I’ve seen 5 Centimeters per Second. It was brilliant and so very infuriating in the end. (not a happy ending one bit!) I gotta check MAL for some names of the other films he’s done aside from these listed here. When you say Summer Days with Coo, I keep thinking Summer Wars. haha

  11. I loved Colorful as well! The animation style – and even the voice acting – certainly wasn’t standard anime fare, but the whole piece really had such wonderful character. Makoto’s problems felt very real and believable, and as a character, he was very human. I’m glad you’re getting the word out for people to watch it! It definitely moved me by the end. Then again, I’m a huge sucker for coming of age tales, haha.

  12. thaks a lot genzo, i watched this movie a weeks ago, and i really wanted to read some opinnions about this movie, and wow
    i really loved your review,

    keep doing it, you really are awesome, as the name of the movie, your post was colorful, almost feels like the old omny’s days are coming back =D

  13. Hi. This is feedback regarding the writing style. I know this is your first post so this could be the reason why it was more like a monologue. To be quite frank, the reason I love reading Random Curiosity is because the writers dive into the story itself, telling us what the show is about and save their commentary for the end. I found this post difficult to read because it went askew from what I am used to reading on Random Curiosity. I’m do appreciate your passion for this series I think it can be saved for the end. Like most readers, when I clicked on the link “Colorful” I was expecting to read a summary so that I could judge whether I would want to watch it or not. But instead it was mostly about why you liked it and I had to skim a several paragraphs down before I could find out what Colorful is all aobut. Maybe in the future stick to the style that many of us have gotten used to from Random Curiosity from way back in Omni’s days running the site: Tell us about the show first then tell us why you like it so much. No disrespect intended. I just wanted to leave you some feedback from a long time Random Curiosity reader.

    1. Chris, this is definitely not a typical review for me – you could read some of my LiA posts if you want to get a better idea what that would be for a typical weekly series. However, the question of summary vs. commentary seems to me the big divide in anime blogging.

      I think it’s fair to say I try to have a balance of the two. But if anything, I do learn towards commentary/analysis over summary most of the time. That’s just my style I guess… I generally assume with weekly series that most readers have seen the episode before reading the review, but that some haven’t, and I try to write for both. But I still feel in some ways that commentary is more useful to help people decide whether to watch than summary, as long as it’s informative commentary.

      I’d love to hear feedback from anyone on this, as I think it’s an important and interesting topic.

  14. Yikes, i hope it’s not as depressing as 5 cm per second. Both the boy and girl moved on from each other when i was hoping they will stay together. Since this is the first show recommend by Enzo, i’ll watch it for a record.

  15. Oh. When I first saw the title I remembered the anime with the same title that was all about panty fetish.

    That aside, I’ll definitely give it a go. Thanks for the suggestion. (I’m with Ikaze in hoping it’s not as depressing as 5cm!)

  16. Saw this movie a few weeks ago, and really enjoyed the portrayal of such complex life issues presented in the film. I was pleasantly surprised to see this on RC, not to mention as well that this is your first contribution as a reviewer – looking forward to your posts in future 🙂

  17. So much for “mini” impressions xD

    Good to see you to post so soon rather than have to wait until summer season began. Looking forward to what could be a sensual affair between you and I 😉

    Let’s get into it.

    The story sounded interesting when I picked it up. But to my dismay, I loathed the voice acting. Like.. metal scraping metal annoying. I don’t know what exactly it was that made me feel this way, but it felt like the main character was too whiny and the angel spoke too slowly/clumsily.

    Overall the direction and art were commendable and the ending was nice, I just…

    I generally watch my stuff RAW, so I didn’t have subs to divert my attention unfortunately. Yeh.. the VA kinda ruined what would have been a good movie for me. =[

  18. I enjoyed this movie quite a bit, but was disappointed that it wasn’t being covered by RC.
    …Until you came along! I agree, its a stellar animation; I have seen many animated movies, and they have all failed in some way. However, Colorful does everything right, and (like you said) down to every little detail.

    Regarding your prose and structure, I really like your style of writing – each writer has a different style of writing, which is what I enjoy about RC. You state your ideas you want to present, and follow-up with another extension of your thoughts; it leads to a very easy-to-read post that flows very well.

    I’m looking forward to your future contributions!

  19. The film did its job (killing yourself is pretty bad, m’kay?), but I was left wanting.

    The meta-PoV switch Show Spoiler ▼

    isn’t handled subtly, and there’s no outside event to instigate the switch. It just happens, like a switch. Maybe this has a basis of truth that I’m not privy to, but I found it jarring to say the least.

    The bromance was absolutely the right thing to do, and they nailed the feelings involved – watching Makoto’s face discontort itself (helped in no small part by the top-notch animation) as the boys hung out was a personal highlight. Too bad that most guy friendships are shit boring, eh? Yes, I realise the movie has a righteous point to prove, but is an accurate portrayal that bores viewers more suitable than adding fantastic elements that keeps them interested?

    As for the message, I thought it was more defeatist than it was letting on? Only a couple of the problems that were apparent before the suicide attempt had been confronted by the end. There will still be a lot of strife in this boy’s life, which were the prime motives for his suicide attempt. In over two hours, I expected more development here; I don’t mean having all of these magically solved, but at the same time I get the feeling that all Makoto will do is bottle it up until he can move away and “forget” about them.

    The film relies on an everyday-like atmosphere, where the world keeps on turning and everybody gets on with life. This is achieved, but not without being rather mundane at times. Technically great, handling a lot of sensitive subjects without being dismissive or preachy. There won’t be a more in-depth study of suicide on a big or small screen for a long time to come. But to borrow one of your own lines Enzo:

    The tone is just right – this could easily have been either bleak and depressing or corny and sappy but it’s neither. it’s painful, honest and true.

    J Jay
  20. As for the message, I thought it was more defeatist than it was letting on? Only a couple of the problems that were apparent before the suicide attempt had been confronted by the end. There will still be a lot of strife in this boy’s life, which were the prime motives for his suicide attempt.

    J Jay, I think this is true. But I also think it’s the point, to some extent. Life’s a bitch – it’s hard and full of pain. You can either accept that and do the best you can, or give up. I think the conclusion isn’t Makoto overcoming his problems – it’s his realizing that it’s worth the effort.

    The ending of this film is very, very Buddhist. Remember what Purapura says at the end:
    Show Spoiler ▼

    That’s an extremely important part of Buddhist thought.

  21. I read reviews about this movie in the past and i would have to say that it sounds like a wonderful movie to see. Especially with a story that isnt normal in movies( anime/OVA). Def will be on my wish list and must see this year. 🙂

    thanks for the wonderful review Guardian Enzo

  22. Thanks for the Awesome recommendation, best movie ive seen so far this year
    and about the Twist Ending i wasn’t expecting it very nice Ending indeed. Again thanks
    for the recommedation 🙂 .

  23. Thank you very much Guardian Enzo. I’ve just finished watching it, as per your recommendation, and I have to say I simply loved it (and cried my eyes out as well).


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