Keiichi Hara – Colorful

Jonathan Clements on Keiichi Hara’s Colorful

Keiichi Hara - Colorful

A nameless soul reaches the train station where the dead are routed onwards to new fates, only to discover that it has won the chance to be restored to life in the body of Makoto Kobayashi, a boy who has committed suicide. Against the clock, the newly awakened “Makoto” must try to find out what his greatest sin was in his previous life, and also determine what it was that led his host body to die in the first place.

This feature-length adaptation of a 1998 novel by Eto Mori has strong resonances with the Buddhist-informed afterlife of Kenji Miyazawa’s Night Train to the Stars. But Colorful also sits neatly in a little sub-genre of Japanese magical realist films about the afterlife.  One of its most notable antecedents is Hirokazu Koreeda’s acclaimed film Afterlife (called Wonderful Life in the original Japanese), in which the spirits of the dead meet at a deserted school, where they analyse their lives and try to determined the most crucial, happiest moment of their life. They then take that moment with them into the unknown.

Colorful takes that filmic gaze in a new direction – as with many anime that recognise the weirdness of replicating reality by drawing pictures, it is in love with the idea of the everyday. It looks for miracles and a sense of wonder in the simplest of mundane, everyday settings. In the jury deliberations at Scotland Loves Animation a couple of years ago, one judge voted for it on the basis that it did that bravest and oddest of things, suggesting that the best thing in the universe was having a friend to hang out with. Despite its musings on the nature of reincarnation and fate, it is far more involved with the nature of modern living, and might be better regarded as a quintessential Everyday Anime, dwelling with a hyper-real sense of wonder on seemingly mundane occasions like a family dinner or two friends out shopping.

The anime adds only two significant elements to the original novel. One alters the character of the protagonist’s angel guide from an old man to a perky young boy. The other sites the formerly placeless story in Tokyo’s Kinuta district, where a lost local tramline is highlighted as an invisible connection between several elements of the story. This not only celebrates the director’s own hometown, but subtly functions as a memoir of forgotten pieces of the anime business itself, since the same area was the home of Toho’s animation division in the 1940s. A break-out film for Keiichi Hara, who had previously spent more than a decade directing the gross-out comedy of Crayon Shin-chan, its fate in the English language was not helped by sharing the same title as the immensely more forgettable Colorful (2000), a relatively obscure, 16-episode anime series a bunch of sex-crazed boys who spend all their time trying to get a glimpse of girls’ knickers. This is not that anime. It’s much, much better than that. See it if you can.

Colorful is screening as part of the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme, showing in a dozen UK cities in 2014.

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