Colorful is a 2010 anime drama film directed by Keiichi Hara. It is one of the most shamefully underrated and not seen enough films. It is fantastic in my opinion and one of the most pleasant animated surprises in recent years.
It is about a boy who upon death learns from an angel that he has another shot at living but is placed to another boy’s body. It then follows his relationship with his ‘new’ parents and friends along with his troubles in accepting his problems as well as him meeting his first friend. The story is absolutely terrific, thorough, beautifully crafted and a reason why the whole film works so well. It has such an intriguing premise with a beginning that instantly makes you interested. And the conclusion is immensely satisfying and emotionally rewarding.
But what drives Colorful is definitely the thematically rich story. It has such a mature tone and subject matter filled with so many fantastic themes. It explores wonderfully growing up, pressures of graduation, suicide and the necessity of friendship and family, but I liked the most how it wonderfully deals with the theme of loneliness, failure to fit in and familial struggles. Those hit me the most as I recognized myself in those situations and I even cried at one scene! That is how powerful and emotionally exhausting it was. So beautiful and heartbreaking, but also inspirational and warm. What I also found very interesting is the explanation of the title where the protagonist explains how each and every one of us has a good and a dark side to us and that that is okay as it makes the world a much more interesting place to live in and that is what makes us humans. That is such a great quote that is instantly memorable and hit me on so many levels.
But those beautiful themes and complex and mature story wouldn’t be as good if it weren’t for good characters and I can safely say that Colorful thankfully has terrific character development. Makoto is extraordinary as the main character here, he is the standout and rarely do protagonists get so much development and growth as his character did. He has such a realistic behavior with at times too obnoxious and angry attitude towards his parents and friends, but that is what makes him great and fitting to the movie’s theme and title – he is flawed and not always nice, just like the rest of us. But his realization at the end of the movie seems real and natural in spite of somewhat difficult to believe and too fantastical twist. Saotome is simply great as his first true friend and the relationship that develops between the two is so touching and simply beautiful to behold providing some of the best sequences. His parents are also very likable and grounded and his brother is quite realistic both in his behavior and his relationship with Makoto. The spirit Purapura is good, if somewhat annoying, but his relationship with Makoro lends a bit of humor to an otherwise dark movie. Shoko is also very well developed and quite a tragic character here, while Hiroka herself is also quite good exceptionally in the scene where it is revealed what she does for money as well as her breakdown scene with Makoto where he explains the meaning of the movie’s title.
The animation is gorgeous to behold. It is hand-drawn, but somewhat computerized with very polished feel to it. It has such a great attention to detail, wonderful colors and it is fueled with evident craftsmanship. But what took it to the next levels are the sequences with the newly acquainted friends exploring the city. It is filled with such care and obvious affection to railroads and trains along with wonderful love for the old times. That is propelled with vintage photographs merging into animation in a moving and breathtaking manner. That scene is art in my opinion and a further proof how artistic and amazing anime can truly be.
There are a couple of minor flaws here thus preventing the movie from becoming a classic in my opinion, but only slightly. The tone, while great, is somewhat poorly realized with the first parts being too light-hearted and even childish and later suddenly delving into deep and dark territory. The shift should have been handled more delicately. I also wanted for Makoto to apologize to Shoko for treating her so badly but that unfortunately never happened. And the twist at the end was rather contrived and even obvious when you think about it, too much reminiscent to ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ which was not needed as Colorful already has a plethora of great and unique themes as well. But those are some minor flaws that do not take much away from this exquisite anime.
The direction from Keiichi Hara is quite good and now I am interested in seeking more of his work. The voice acting is undoubtedly phenomenal with everyone giving powerhouse performances. But the tone is so mature and adult that I was stunned as even in Japanese animation, some themes and subject matter rarely get explored. But here you have suicide which is incredibly well explored and even some sex-related issues such as prostitution and cheating. That was unbelievable to see in animation, but is done in a great way, not ever crossing the line, but rather exploring it subtly and with great care and sophistication. It is animated beautifully and it is even artistic at times. And the score is as expected from anime, wonderful and very pleasing. The dialogue is smart and the editing is deft. Colorful has both brain and heart and that is commendable in and of itself.
With terrific character development filled with realistic and wonderfully realized characters, deft editing, superb dialogue, some incredibly emotional, even heartbreaking sequences and amazing animation that is at times even artistic, Colorful may have a contrived ending and the tone is not handled properly, but that tone is so mature and dark which was refreshing to witness, it has a complex and deep story filled with beautifully explored themes of loneliness, suicide, different personality traits, friendship and pressures of graduation. Colorful is the kind of movie that is perfect in many respects and a reason why I watch movies. It feeds both my brain and soul, it is smart and incredibly emotional without being sappy and it is a terrific achievement and one of the most shamefully underrated and rarely seen anime films in recent years.