Comedy, Films, High school, Japan, Recommended posts, Reviews, Teen

Flying Colors

Success beats failure in Nobuhiro Doi’s motivational high school comedy…

Since watching Flying Colors my understanding of both the words ‘inspirational’ and ‘motivational’ has rocketed to whole new heights. I’ve been ambushed by Nobuhiro Doi’s adaptation of the Japanese non-fiction bestseller about the writer real life experience as a private school director guiding his student Sayaka from a low level of education to qualify for a place in Keio University, the most prestigious educational institute in Japan and one of the leading university facilities in the world. It is so uplifting you’ll likely rewatch it immediately.

Main character is Sayaka (Kasumi Arimura, I Am a Hero, When Marnie Was There), a highly fashionable girl and proof of how profoundly ignorant someone can be, forced by her mother to join a cram school and readjust her education from a 4th grade elementary school to the actual year she is attending, 2nd year in senior high school. It’s a hopeless situation, where only her mother cares about her, literally obliged to grow her two daughters while his husband forces his teenage dream of becoming a professional basketball player to their only son.

Doi’s opening act is messy, confusing, rather annoying in its quick scanning of Sayaka’s youth, but then it all changes when we meet the original author’s alter ego, Tsubota (Atsushi Itō, Mozu, Battlefield Baseball), the young and excessively optimistic teacher working at the Seiho Cram School. There Tsubota hosts the worst students imaginable and through a programme builds their self-esteem, favours their desire to improve themselves and helps them in their path toward a higher education, preparing them for the entrance examinations.

Sayaka may well be the worst he has, not even knowing the difference between North and South, yet Tsubota sees her potential and gives Sayaka enough confidence to steer her life and try the hardest challenge a Japanese student could face: trying to get inside Keio University. If reading the plot might drain any interest to watch a film about a student studying to get inside university out of you, be advised: Flying Colors has a really enticing structure and an amazing cast of performers to boldly go where many others have bored us to death.

Kasumi Arimura’s Sayaka has an entire universe around her to care for, standing in Flying Colors to exemplify the many obstacles a young student may have to jump in their path to success: a divided family in poor economic condition, a loveless father whose only objective is keeping chasing a worthless dream through his son, a teacher actively calling his student losers and good-for-nothing. In this depressing landscape, where all will slowly have to rethink itself if anything has to change for the better. So Tsubota’s cram school appears as a safe heaven, where everything can still happen and turn your life upside down.

Nobuhiro Doi has no particular interest in experimenting or delivering a perfectly crafted feature, his main focus is on the developing of his characters and the drawing of their worlds, sleeping in the background but designed to overcome the distance between the viewers and the actors. It’s all kitchens, bedrooms, hallways, karaoke boxes and schools, places everyone constantly lives and knows where they can see themselves having those same conversations, drinking the same beer and experiencing the same life problems Sayaka has.

Flying Colors creates a strong empathetic link with Sayaka, the good-hearted Tsubota and Reiji (Shūhei Nomura, Chihayafuru, Sakurada Reset), another problematic student on the road to success. It soon all revolves around them, there’s barely a frame in which one of the three is not included and despite their huge presence on screen the viewer will equally feel a hunger for more and more and more. There are no ‘ifs’ in Flying Colors, it is not a masterpiece nor a fantastic film, but a really entertaining one, absolutely.

In the years to come it should become one of the must watch films for any student in high school. Hiroshi Hashimoto transposition of Nobunaka Tsubota’s book has all you need to convince anyone that it’s never too late to start all over again, to chase something that looks far in the distance and thought for someone else. You’ll probably have a dozen books on your hand straight after you’ve seen Flying Colors, maybe even trying your chance for any desired improvement to your life. It really works.

Flying Colors screens as part of the 2017 Japan Foundation Touring Programme which began in London and tours the country.

About the author

Fausto VernazzaniFausto Vernazzani Fausto Vernazzani
Once upon a time in a country not so far away (named Italy) there was a Fausto who was always watching movies but without really loving them – until he saw some movies directed by some unknown guys like Kim Ki-duk, Park Chan-wook and Takeshi Kitano.... More »
Read all posts by Fausto Vernazzani

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