Written by Forrest Maynock
Life can be complicated sometimes, for some ending it all may seem like an appealing option, but as this film shows life can really be worthwhile.
Colorful (2010) follows Makoto Kobayashi, or rather a reincarnated soul inhabiting Makoto’s body sent back to Earth on an “internship” to discover what great sin it had committed in its previous life. While the mystery of this soul would seem to be the central focus of the story, it is really more of a story about the soul trying to piece together the life of Makoto and the people around him.
We are also thrust into the evolving stories of Makoto’s family and schoolmates as they deal with the seemingly “new” Makoto. This is where the film suffers the most. With at least five different subplots to follow I as a viewer was left grasping for plot threads and looking desperately for ways of “tying things up” by the conclusion of the film. In terms of telling a neat and coherent story, Colorful may have bit off a little more than it could chew.
The themes that Colorful took on caught me a bit by surprise. Normally animated films, from any country, do not tackle such complex topics as suicide, family dynamics, and bullying in such a straightforward manner. This is what adds Colorful to a list of gut wrenching, tear welling animated films. The primary issue is that there seem to be a few too many themes, subplots, and important characters to keep track of. I would say that if fleshed out to a trilogy of films (for example) Colorful would have been a much better experience, but as is there is way too much cramped into too little time.
Another example of this is 2016’s A Silent Voice which covers all of these topics quite well. Where Colorful suffers in plotting and tying of loose ends, A Silent Voice excels. I could not help but compare these two films after watching Colorful; while I think that they both stand on their own, they could also be easily paired with each other for a thematic combo viewing. Colorful does manage to at least handle the subject matter that tackles quite nicely at times, but at other points, there are blind rifts of incoherency or seemingly slapped together bookends.
An example of this can be seen in the plotline involving Makoto’s mother. Her story for me was one of the most interesting developments in the film, but after a buildup to a climactic point, the plot involving the mother simply stops. There is only a semi-conclusion offered, and when the film stopped developing this plot further I felt utterly let down. On a similar note, Makoto’s brother plays a pivotal part in the overall story but has virtually no early development other than a few vague impressions of his personality and feelings towards the events surrounding Makoto.
There are some other examples of great emotional animated films ranging from Disney films like The Lion King (1994) to more recent anime films such as Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms (2018). Films like these could be categorized in a similar manner to Colorful in that they carry an emotional punch of some sort, but few others are able to tackle as much as this one film was able to, and that may be why this film fails in many regards. A film like The Lion King has such a tight a neatly presented story that all it needs to do to succeed as a masterpiece is to have memorable characters and a killer soundtrack (it has both); Colorful has really interesting characters but they are only hurt by the story which sprouts interesting characters all over the place, but fails to give them much besides a skeletal structure.
All of this, and then the end of the film just sort of happens. The mystery of the soul is revealed, and seemingly everything is solved, but as a viewer I was left in a state of frustration not so much over the soul or Makoto, but over all of the secondary characters and the various roles that they played. As I mentioned, this story should have been done as a trilogy where more time could have been given to setup and payoff characters in a more natural way. Alternatively, a few characters could have been cut to give more time to the “important” ones, but picking which one’s to develop further and which ones to dump is a hard task; in this I maybe understand the difficult situation of the film’s writer, Miho Maruo, and adapting a whole novel into a two-hour film.
In general, I think this film falters a bit on its own with so many subplots and a “rushed” conclusion, but if paired with one or two other films with similar themes and styles Colorful can work as an excellent companion piece.
Acknowledgement: I would like to thank Dr. Chung and everyone from the term 1 & 2 Film and Literature course of 2020 for their participation.