Last week I was lucky enough to catch two films at the beginning of the annual Japan Foundation UK touring film programme, now in its eleventh year. The theme this year is ‘youth’ and there are 11 films on in total, each one looking at a slightly different aspect of Japan’s youth culture.
The two films I went to see were ‘Colourful’, a beautifully-done anime about a sinful spirit who is given a chance of redemption when he is placed in the body of a school boy, and ‘Otakus in Love’, a laugh out loud, insane tale about two social misfits trying to make their way in the world. If I had more time and money, I would have seen more films on the schedule, but you’ll have to make do with an overview of these two films this year!
As the name suggests, this film festival is travelling around England until 27 March, so there’s still time to catch some screenings depending on where you live and how far you’re willing to travel. You can check out the schedule on the Japan Foundation website, so get planning!
‘Colourful’, directed by Keiichi Hara, 2010
A dejected spirit is given a second chance at life when he is placed in the body of 14-year-old boy Makoto, who has been experiencing a difficult time at home and at school. In a word, this film was charming. I’ve seen my fair share of anime films and ‘Colourful’ got the balance of realism and surrealism just right. The animation itself is somewhat rustic and a lot less ‘polished and shiny’ than your average anime film, for luck of a better phrase, which means that the characters and setting itself felt more realistic and believable.
‘Colourful’ explores the lives and minds of early teens in contemporary Japan, seen through the eyes of the nameless spirit who tries to readjust to life as Makoto. The pressure on Makoto to do well in exams and choose a high school, versus his being bottom in the class and strong feeling of not belonging in the world, is one that is rather familiar in Japan, where academic excellence is everything. Despite this, the spirit inhabiting Makoto wonders why he tried to kill himself when he has a family who loves him. The reason for Makoto’s suicide and the identity of the spirit that has been given a second chance are revealed during the film, and will more than likely stun you.
Luckily, the director was at the screening and took some questions at the end! I didn’t get mine in, and one guy spend five minutes rambling about which bits of the film he didn’t like and didn’t even end with a question, but that is the only complaint I can make. It was fantastic to see the director had come to the UK especially for the festival.
I was very moved by this film and heard a number of people in the audience sniffing, which is always a sign of a good film. ‘Colourful’ sadly isn’t available to buy here, and it really should be, so I highly recommend making a special trip to go and see it at the festival if you can.
‘Otakus in Love’, directed by Suzuki Matsuo, 2004
Two social misfits – ‘rock’ manga artist Mon and cosplay-obsessed Koino – collide in this quirky love-drama, set in the vibrant world of Japanese contemporary pop culture including manga fandom and cosplay conventions. Look out for a number of high-profile cameos, including directors Takashi Miike and Shinya Tsukamoto, who appear on screen!
Fans of cosplay, manga and video games will love this film for obvious reasons, but this isn’t just a ‘silly film about two geeks who get up to lots of shenanigans’. Mon and Koino are at odds with the straight-laced world around them, where getting a job and meeting a nice young man/woman are the pillars of social success, and the two are effectively immature adults. Mon sees himself as a ‘rock’ manga artist but no one gets his art, because it’s literally rocks, and Koino obsession with drawing fan manga and making cosplay is putting her dangerously in the red. You probably know some people like that!
I can’t say much more about this film without giving away the good bits, but this is another gem of a film. It’s wacky and ridiculous, but this genre is an important part of contemporary Japanese cinema (yes, really). It’s also not available to buy in the UK, so get yourself over to a screening!
A huge thank you to the Japan Foundation for putting on a fantastic programme, and I look forward to next year!
Below are the trailers for the two films, without subtitles, so enjoy!