Sunday, June 12, 2011

REVIEW: Colorful

I heard about this anime through Tha Baka Blog and decided to check it out. Five weeks later, I finally got around to watching it. Below is my two cents on this wonderful little film.

Colorful is the story of a soul who is given a second chance at life by inhabiting the body of Kobayashi Makoto, a middle-schooler who committed suicide. With the help of his guide, PuraPura, the soul must try to remember the great sin he did in his past life as well as figure out why Makoto committed suicide.

At first, the soul remains detached from his new life and is actually grateful that Makoto's family is not related to him but as time goes, he gradually begins to understand the importance of connection, even the smallest, seemingly inconsequential ones, and to appreciate the gift of life.

The award-winning animation film of 2010 from Sunrise, directed by Hara Keiichi, based on the book by Mori Eto, Colorful is essentially a story about second chances and the beauty of life. The movie is about two hours long, which is very long indeed, but the whole time I was watching it, I was transported and wasn't even aware of the passage of time. That's a testament to how absorbing this anime is.

Right from the start, Colorful draws you in with the image of a train station populated by humanoid, gray...blobs -- souls of people who died. For a moment there I was even reminded of the first and final scenes of Grave of the Fireflies, except that in Colorful we are looking at the afterlife and not at life slowly coming to an end.

In stark contrast to his colorless surroundings, PuraPura, a neutral guide spirit  -- who looks more like your school-age bratty baby brother (and sometimes acts and talks like one) than the wise, old sage that we've all come to expect from someone of his occupation -- stands on the platform as though waiting for someone. We hear a train arrive. In a moment, the screen turns black and we read, rather than hear, the first few words out of the mouth of our protagonist.

This style of presentation continues for the entire duration of the conversation between the boy, PuraPura, and the protagonist soul, and it is here that the premise of the whole story is laid out. (Incidentally, trains are used all over the film as a symbolism. In Colorful, they are not just modes of transportation but as the tangible object that connects people together).

There is nothing really new about the story of Colorful. Even the way it is approached is not entirely revolutionary. But time and time again, I've found that you don't need an entirely new idea to make something great. Because great is what this film is. It's a very simple story, when you think about it, but the way it has been executed, it manages to transcend the boundaries of its own material. This is a true gem, a drama that takes on the dour and usually taboo topic of suicide, that seeks to understand, rather than glorify or preach against, those who have fallen victim to it.

I especially love the last dialogue between the main character and one of his classmates. More specifically, when he says that every person is comprised of different colors. Pure colors, dirty colors, they're all the same, they all make up a beautiful picture.

On the art side, Colorful certainly deserves its title. The anime is beautifully drawn and animated. The film also makes use of still black-and-white photos of old trains and railways. While I understand the symbolic function of these, I can't help but feel that the director or someone from the production team must have loved, or at least felt very nostalgic for, trains. As result, not only are we treated to beautifully rendered blast-from-the-past panels but we also get to learn a little bit of Japan's history through its old railways.

I love the character designs -- almost Ghibli-esque but not quite. Shoko totally reminded me of the character played by Miyazaki Aoi in Tada, Kimi wo Aishiteru, so imagine my surprise when I learned that the character is actually voiced by said actress. :) Speaking of voice acting, Colorful features a top-notch voice cast who not only portray well their characters but lend a certain depth to them.

If I have to complain, I guess I can gripe about the BGM a little. While I didn't mind the ending theme (I barely listened to it, TBH), some of the tracks used in the BGM for Colorful were a little distracting.

In conclusion, Colorful is a wonderful little film that has a simple premise but with a heavy theme. A story that seeks to understand rather than look down in judgment upon those who seemed to have given up on life. A beautiful look at what it means to live a happy and grateful life.