I’ve recently watched Colorful, a 2010 movie suggested to me by Shaurya. The movie follows a person who had died but was given a chance to redeem himself. He was reincarnated in a body of Makoto Kobayashi, a boy who killed himself with sleeping pills overdose. After the reincarnation the new Makoto needs to deal with the echoes of the Makoto’s life before the incident, the problems that lead up to his suicide.
I would say Colorful is a serious movie, at least compared to other things I’ve been watching recently. It might be a little hard to watch at times, but it definitely isn’t boring. Makoto’s mother acting is one of the best I’ve seen in a long while, I almost want to watch the movie again just to see it again (even though her role is such a sad one). If you like movies directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon, Makoto Shinkai, you should check this one out. It would be different, but chances are you’ll like it.
Now time for spoilers. Though before the spoilers begin let me make a little detour and talk about stories in anime. Most anime do have a story, and it can be quite complex. The story can be told directly by the characters or a narrator, or it can be acted out; some of the events can be only alluded to without being shown. You can hide your story behind hints and metaphors, tell it through references, and since it is anime you can use words, pictures, sound and motion to construct those hints and references. Though if you aren’t careful no one will be able to decipher what the story was.
With this in mind most shows limit this complexity so the viewer can instantly see what is going on, at least in the more important parts of the film/series. But the possibility to do more than the ‘simple things’ is exciting, and people do go for it. This creates an interesting situation where most of the story is being told directly in a simple manner, but some of it is hidden and requires some effort to discover. And this is one of the things I like to write about, my feeble attempts to search for those additional parts of the story.
Now Colorful is pretty interesting in this aspect. I hope I’ll be able to explain why as we go. Let us start by recounting events of Makoto’s life, in chronological order. The earliest part of Makoto’s life that we get to see is his days at school where he was bullied and apparently didn’t have any friends. Now we jump to the time before his suicide. He lives in a family where people grew distant from each other, and it might have been in this state for a long time. At this time Makoto has feelings for his classmate Hiroka. Too bad for him, he sees the girl walking out of a love hotel with a middle-aged guy, which I guess would be hard on a boy. What’s more he also sees his mother walking out of that hotel with another man. Somehow all this drove him to take his own life.
What do you think, does it sound like a reasonable story? I can’t say that it is unrealistic, but I don’t feel like it makes sense. All of this was told very briefly and we don’t get to see how Makoto was reacting to those events. Maybe that is the reason why I can’t put this together with the Makoto that we do get to see in the movie. I can see how realizing that your crush is selling herself or is in love with another guy would be traumatizing and I can see how seeing that your mother is unfaithful to your father would be painful, but I don’t think this would drive the present Makoto to commit suicide. I feel like Makoto would need to show a completely different side of his character in order to make this story work.
Alright, now we get to the present Makoto. The guy is a piece of work for sure. He is bad at studying (or at least he doesn’t try to be good at it), he doesn’t have friends except Hiroka, he rejects the only other person who tries to communicate with him – his other classmate Shouko. After learning about his mother’s affair he starts acting cold towards her, refusing to eat her cooking, take things she buys for him. The more she tries to be nice to him, the more rude his actions towards her get. At some point Makoto tells his mother that her presence makes him want to puke. He doesn’t have hard feelings towards the rest of his family though. We see Makoto spending time with his father, and their conversation was at least free from aggression.
Makoto’s attitude towards his mother gradually deteriorates. The climax is reached when he accuses her of adultery and runs away from home. Consequently he is beat up by a gang of older boys and has to stay home to recover. And by this time Makoto and Hiroka had a conversation and Makoto kind of had to accept that she willingly sells herself, that this is who she is. You can notice how this resembles the situation right before his suicide. Both times Makoto was isolated from everyone, gave up on his family and heavy consequences followed.
Now why does this happen to Makoto? Well this time it literally is him turning his back on his family. Was it the same the last time then? Or was it his family neglecting him?.. What I don’t like about all of those statements is their simplicity. It feels like I am describing a Naruto episode, not a serious movie. No offence to Naruto, but “family is sacred, period” is the general attitude the show has :P
I will stop there with the chronological order. I’ll stop because there is no way I can fit in the last part, the part where Makoto recovers his relations with his family. Let me explain myself. So far the events made some sort of sense. Makoto killed himself because he wasn’t able to find support from his family before. Now he rejects this support and his life falls apart again. It is a story about the importance of realizing the value of people around you. Makoto’s father even spells it all out for the audience. By the end of the movie Makoto will recognize Shouko as a friend; he also makes a new friend Saotome, who becomes the key stone to Makoto’s change. So, chronologically the story begins in a coherent way, and it ends in a coherent way. But I can’t connect the beginning and the end. Why did Makoto stop hating his mother? Why did he recognize the importance of his family?
To answer this question I would need to throw away the answers we already got. “It is a story about the importance of realizing the value of people around you” – lets forget about it. Instead lets look at Makoto bullying his mother. The more she tries to be nice to him the nastier he gets. One of the strongest moments in their interaction was when they are about to have dinner together and Makoto imagines his mother’s hands preparing the meal, which produces a violent reaction from him. His behavior towards her is disturbing exactly because it is so illogical. He is not just ungrateful, it is as if he finds his mother’s care offensive.
And that is exactly it. He does find it offensive. Look at Makoto. As a person he is fairly grown up, with self assurance and independent thinking. All his actions show that he would be fine left alone, thrown into life to enjoy it or be beaten by it. Look at what the boy does. He follows his love interest around, when he sees an opportunity he forcibly takes her away from a date with another guy; and when he realizes that the love interest doesn’t care much about him he lets her leave. Compare this to his behavior towards Shouko. Being in his room, being expected to behave in a nice manner, being a good classmate and a good boy in general – Makoto protests against all of that. He protests against being treated like child, being taken care of by his mother. And on the surface level the feeling is so illogical that he himself likely doesn’t understand it’s origin. That is why he clings to this made up reason to hate his mother. It shouldn’t matter to him if his mother had an affair, he is broad-minded enough to accept things like that.
Looking at it this way it becomes clear why the movie spends so much time with Makoto and his mother. It is not easy to show this complicated problem, the problem of being sheltered and taken care of too much. Makoto’s mother honestly does all she can to help him. She even recognizes his antagonism and goes along with it. You can’t blame her for anything in this situation. Makoto, on the other hand, acts in an awful way and isn’t willing to do anything to remedy the situation. It seems the only way out was for his mom to leave Makoto alone, to stop worrying about him. Now do you see a contradiction? A few paragraphs above we were talking about how being neglected had lead to Makoto suicide. So which is it?
At this point, it almost seems like the movie can’t decide what it wants to say. Alright, let’s just look at it some more. I will pick up where I left, the moment Makoto recovers from being beat up. Soon after his recovery he starts spending time with Saotome, another guy from his class. They go around the city together, wasting time looking at old train routs. They go shopping together, talk about things, even think about what school they should apply to. Both seem to enjoy each other company, and their friendship even motivates Makoto to study. That is interesting because at this point Makoto believes he won’t be around by the time they go to that other school.
Makoto would later say about Saotome “he is the first friend I’ve ever made”, and the emphasis should be placed on the word “I”. There were other people who kind of came to be close to Makoto, but they weren’t exactly friends, and he didn’t do much to become their friend. In a way becoming friends with Saotome was an independent act, something that Makoto did for himself, without being guided. I think that was important for him. The plan to go to the same school that Makoto and Saotome made together, their decision to study together, them spending time together, it was the little part of independent life that I believe Makoto needed. Well, but how important is this friendship for the story? Why did it suddenly appear out of nowhere in such an intense part of the movie? I’ve said that Saotome is “a key stone to Makoto’s change”. I meant the way this event is placed, it seems like it was what lead to Makoto reconsidering his relations with his family. And I don’t know how it works. Maybe being around Saotome Makoto remembered what it is like to be a normal nice human, not a spoiled brat?.. I don’t know, but I would like to know.
Also there was Makoto going fishing with his father. While his father tried to catch fish he had time to paint, the first time he did it after the suicide. This is an important detail, cause it is an early hint that Makoto is Makoto, that the soul/mind occupying his body are his soul/mind. Makoto’s conversation with his father is one sided, but it does what it needed to do. It tells Makoto that his family care about him together, it isn’t just his mother who does. Later Makoto and his father go to a street noodle shop where Makoto’s father shares his food with him. It kind of mirrors the scene where Makoto and Saotome share their food, probably a metaphor for Makoto becoming friends with his dad.
The highest point of the story comes where the Kobayashi family have dinner together and they discuss a possible school for Makoto. Through the discussion Makoto instead of becoming more and more offensive, as he usually did, went to tears and actually pleaded for his own decision to be considered. His brother also speaks up for the first time. Unlike Makoto’s parents who have unlimited patience, Makoto’s brother seems to be fed up with Makoto and he tells him that up front. It is an important moment too; a fair bit of honesty is an important part of family relations. Long story short, the family seems to reconcile and Makoto seems to stop his aggression towards his mother.
We also learn that that time when Makoto was beat up he was in a temple where he used to play as a child. It is the second hint that the soul/mind he has are his own. I bring up this and the other small details in order to sort of demonstrate that this movie does care about this stuff, giving the viewer hints as to what is about to come next. And this brings another question. We only learn details about Makoto’s past at the very end of the film. So are those details important? If they are, then the viewer is forced in the situation where he can only appreciate the story after he finishes the film and either goes over it in his head or watches it the second time. And I don’t think Colorful is this kind of movie, I don’t think it would do that to its viewer. But if Makoto’s past isn’t important to understand what is going on in the film, then what? What is the movie about? The idea that “it is a story about the importance of realizing the value of people around you” sort of relies on Makoto’s past. But the idea that this movie is about an overly sheltered youth doesn’t explain why he suddenly gave in and embraced his family. And it raises a question why they even needed to put that rushed story about Makoto’s past in the film in the first place.
I feel the only answer I can come up with would be repeating what Makoto told Hiroka about people being colorful. It is not a real answer though, it is just saying that Makoto’s ways may be weird and it might be hard to see any reason in his actions, and that this is fine, that is how people are. Maybe we should accept Makoto the same way Makoto accepts Hiroka and doesn’t question her ways of living. I don’t know if I am happy with this answer, but is ties up the film for me. Also earlier I was thinking about those questions I’ve written above I couldn’t find an answer. Then I went to watch certain parts of the movie again, and this dialogue between Makoto and Hiroka came up; and with that awesome vocal soundtrack in the background Makoto spelled out what I was looking for for me. So I just can’t turn down this explanation now ^^/
Sorry if this was a bit too boring to read. Now you see what I meant by “Colorful is pretty interesting in this aspect” – it almost tells you two different stories at the same time =) So what do you think?