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Cholisose: Our first movie for summer is Colorful, a 2010 film directed by Keiichi Hara. Leap250 and I will share our thoughts on this movie—and then it will be up to you to continue the discussion in the comments!

Note: And remember, next Sunday we will discuss the film Time of Eve. Be sure to watch that film before July 8th! But for now, let’s analyze Colorful a bit.

A Story of (After)Life

Leap250: A nameless soul on his way to the afterlife is given another chance to live. In exchange, he was to reside in the body of Kobayashi Makoto, a 14-year old boy, driven to commit suicide. He must learn why Makoto killed himself, as well as remember what “grave sin” he himself committed in his lifetime. Doesn’t really sound colorful now does it?  From the premise alone, it’s enough to say that this film is deep. And not the psychological, mind-screw, Evangelion kind of deep. No, no. I’m talking about the heart and soul kind. The kind of deep that just hits you, and hits you hard. Or, well, that’s what I felt. In a nutshell, “Colorful” is a story about life – the pains and hardships people experience everyday, along with the joys and rewards of living through it. It’s a lesson about cherishing life and the love that others give.

The story as a whole is well-written (being based from an award winning piece after all) and flowed in a rather slow and calm manner. Although the theme of getting a second chance at life has already been used a number of times already, Colorful manages to make it a bit more unique. The whole thing is held together by a “plot twist” near the end – that the unknown man was actually Makoto himself and that everything he did help him regain his life anew. Unlike Cho here, I didn’t really see this coming so, I’ll leave it to you guys to imagine my astonishment at the time.

Cholisose: Though I guessed fairly early on that Makoto was simply being given a second chance at life (rather than his soul being transferred to a new body), I still felt this particular plot point was very well-executed. His post-death amnesia allowed him to approach his life again without the despair he had built up inside, and to try seeing each individual in interacts with in a new light. With a little guidance from Purapura, he had to work out for himself what it means to live, and how to maintain relationships with the people who care for him—despite how flawed everyone is.

Colorful is rather long for an animated film, clocking in at over two hours, but I felt it used every minute of its time rather effectively. There were a lot of subplots that Makoto’s return to life story was composed of, and the film did well to show how he came to deal with each member of his family, along with a number of classmates from school. The characters are all drawn in a more realistic way than most anime, and they all have an authentic feel to them in general—perhaps thanks in large part to those flaws they exude. None of the characters are really what I’d call anything more than average. None of them do anything that makes them particularly heroic or spectacular. But they live, and they struggle, and they try to make the best of things. It’s not very hard to relate to the events in Makoto’s life, even if we haven’t had to experience the exact sort of things he goes through.

Death, Sin, and the Cycle of Reincarnation

Leap250: Death is often a sensitive topic. It’s hard to sugarcoat macabre – more so since this is animation, and the vast majority of the ones watching it will be teens and young adults, maybe a few in the work force, but you get the picture. It’s not often that the subject of being deceased gets touched upon further than usually needed to be. Shows like Angel Beats! and AnoHana managed to ease in the tactfulness by being light-hearted, but never failing to recognize how hard a subject death is to accept.

I think that most of Colorful’s take on death, sin and reincarnation is based lightly (if not exclusively) on Buddhist beliefs. If I’m remembering my Asian History classes right – in Buddhism, when a person dies, he/she returns to the cycle of reincarnation (or samsara), wherein his/her soul (the atman) will be reborn as another living being (not necessarily human) depending on the acts that he/she has done in his/her lifetime.

In Colorful’s case, Makoto was “lucky” to have been chosen to have the chance to return to the cycle. Going by PuraPura’s words, it would seem that not all souls get that chance. His sin was also forgiven when he righted his own wrongs, which is again very spiritualistic, and very Buddhist in terms of how suicide is viewed as. Suicide is not as “absolute” in Buddhism as it is in other religions like Islam or Christianity. Although it is still regarded as a grave action against the teachings of Buddha.

Cholisose: I felt Colorful went about the afterlife in a way that worked very well for the messages of the film. While traditional religious belief in Japan stems from both Shinto and Buddhism, there generally seems to be a focus on the latter when it comes to matters concerning the afterlife. Beliefs regarding how things pan out exactly will vary from one school of thought to the next, and ultimately from person to person, but typically there’s a sense that people remain in the cycle of reincarnation due to their attachments (which are the causes of life’s pain and suffering). From what I understand, it generally takes many lifetimes for people to break free of these attachments, effectively achieving enlightenment and gaining the purest joy a soul can attain.

The start of the film takes place in a transitory plane of existence likened to a sort of train station, which is cleverly shown to us from Makoto’s perspective. Though it is dark and mysterious, it is situated high above the earth. While Makoto tries to deny being reborn (or rather, returned to his lifeless body), it is not because of any enlightenment he has gained. If anything, his reasoning is quite the opposite, as his heart is exceedingly troubled by the circumstances he lived through and the situations he witnessed. As “the Boss” of this afterlife apparently recognized, Makoto had a lot to learn from the life he tried to escape. In a way, Colorful reminded me of the old film It’s a Wonderful Life, where the protagonist was assisted by an angel figure who helped show him how there were a lot of people who still cared about him. Colorful interestingly is not just about our protagonist moving on from his own mistakes, but is largely about the efforts needed to forgive the mistakes of others, and to accept the nature of human beings.

Modern-Day Tribulations

Leap250: I’m sure some, if not all of us, can relate to Makoto in one way or another. I mean, we’ve all had low points in our teenage life. Maybe not to the point of suicide, but low enough to make you feel, well, crappy. We also have our own problems, some we most likely share with others, while some we go through only with ourselves. Families in particular have it tough at times: parents have to work late sometimes to make ends meet, studying under the constant pressure of assuring a good future, all the while squeezing just enough time to be with your loved ones. Colorful portrayed all this in a mature manner, putting into perspective  how the circumstances within Makoto’s life really do happen in real life, and often times produce the same effects.

A sad truth, but the truth nonetheless. Makoto’s family showcase how families usually are nowadays – distant. Personally I can’t really blame Makoto’s mother for her actions. I’m not saying it’s the right thing to do, but just imagine how it was for her; cooped up in an empty house, and when her family gets back, it’s still pretty empty, figuratively. She’s only human; who wavers and falters every now and then, and sometimes the loneliness within your own family can be too much too bare. But Makoto would have none of that. It’s something else that the youngest member of the family knew about it, and it’s another how he’s the only one who it hit the hardest.

Cholisose: In our modern-day era, the family structure is a bit more complicated than it has been in the past (for good and for ill). There are many societal obligations every individual must face, on top of any roles a person plays amongst familial connections. One’s societal duties (be it at work or school) generally benefit a family unit in some ways, and prove detrimental in others. When coupled with the self-serving desires inherent in human nature, it is not so difficult to imagine a situation as fragile as Makoto’s home life cropping up. The father spent little time with family (a destabalizing factor in Makoto’s life), the older brother expressed only indifference and disdain for Makoto, and the mother’s actions ultimately broke Makoto’s hope and trust in the entire family structure.

At the same time, he had apparently grown up without any real friends, and was regularly bullied over the years. When children are going to be spending a majority of their everyday lives in school-related settings, it will obviously be painful to never have any support from their peers. Overall I felt Colorful did well with showing the many facets of Makoto’s life, taking its time to reveal the many factors that were in play when he made his fateful decision to take his life. I felt one of the most significant themes of the film then was the need for people to reach out to others. It was very important for Makoto to become friends with Saotome, and it was important for Makoto to interact with Hiroka and Shouko. The act of coming to know the multifaceted situations of others is in fact a pretty big step in caring about the people one interacts with—and ultimately, it helps one to care about life in general.

One of the things I liked best about Colorful was how it showed the development of Makoto’s relationship with his mother, father, and brother. It is perhaps as telling as it is unfortunate that it took a suicide attempt for the family to be brought back together, but the concept of people taking actions to correct their mistakes is nothing unusual, as all people—and all family units—will undoubtedly come short of the ideal. But I found it sweet how the father took action to reach out to Makoto in the best way he could think of, and how the brother (practically a tsundere by the film’s end) was willing to make sacrifices and take time to help Makoto find a direction to his life.

The most significant relationship the film delves into though is between Makoto and his mother, which I found particularly interesting. Colorful managed to do two things at the same time for this subplot: It made Makoto’s disdain of his mother understandable (particularly when keeping in mind his age), but it also made the mother very sympathetic. It’s clear that she’s trying to do everything she can to make things up to Makoto, and it’s disheartening to see how unwilling he is to forgive her for the majority of the film. In the end, I found it fitting that the resolution to this story took place at the dinner table (as mundane as it sounds). Once Makoto finally accepts his mother’s lovingly-prepared meal, there’s a sense that the two can now progress in their relationship and start taking steps away from the chasm that had divided them. I didn’t get the feeling that everything is just magically perfect now between the two, but there is certainly a strong hope for things to continue in a positive direction.

Being Alive vs. Living

Leap250: I’d like to believe that there’s a difference here. Like saying – you can be alive, but that doesn’t mean you’re living. I think living simply means enjoying life. “Enjoying the Moment” (as one NDS game never fails to remind me every single day). As with Makoto, it’s nice if we’re to appreciate what we have, the people who care for us, and of course, appreciate ourselves.

Cholisose: Makoto’s unfortunate circumstances were perhaps largely in part due to his own personality, as he seems to have had difficulty reaching out to other people. Once he became more proactive in his return to life, he began to find more joy in life (as Purapura suggested). Beyond that, there are multiple ways of interpreting a saying as basic as “enjoy life,” though. Perhaps this is because there are a near-infinite number of ways people can find pleasure in life. As Colorful makes abundantly clear, there are dramatic and unfortunate consequences that arise when people give in to self-serving pleasures. In the end, characters don’t find lasting joy when they are focused on their own desires—but rather when they are striving to form meaningful relationships with others.

I took one class in college that spent some time trying to analyze human nature. Are people overall good or bad? As you can imagine, there’s enough literature on the subject to last you a lifetime. But I feel this film resonates with the simplistic conclusion our class came up with. People generally care first and foremost about themselves—but at the same time there is a significant capacity for people to assist others, including to the point of sacrifice (in every little thing the word can entail). Even people who would be labeled as particularly wicked will likely reach out a hand if someone nearby was slipping off a cliff. In Colorful, I feel all the characters present are people with the best of intentions, so the times they “fall” are largely due to many, many factors within their circumstances, rather than a particular desire to bring misfortune to others.

There are a ton of other things that can be discussed in this film (eg Makoto’s use of art as a coping mechanism, the significance of the old railway search sequence, etc). Were there any particular points that stood out to you? How do you feel about anime as a medium for portraying stories of this sort? And how well did you feel Colorful managed to maintain your interest? It’s much more a pensive film than it is an entertaining film, and it certainly moves along at a quiet pace—but in the end I found it quite worth watching. At the very least, I think it’s definitely a good film to share with those who would question anime’s place as an artistic, thought-provoking, and meaningful storytelling medium.