The theme of February’s Genre Grandeur is “College Themed Films”. While looking for ideas through a general internet search, I came across titles I had either heard of or seen before. But, for this month’s event, I wanted to choose one that was new to me. Toward the bottom of an IMDB list of “college films”, one movie caught my eye. That would be the 2015 Japanese film, Flying Colors! Prior to 2022, I had reviewed two Japanese productions; Howl’s Moving Castle and From Up on Poppy Hill. But anyone who knows anything about film would know Studio Ghibli is not the “end all, be all” when it comes to Japanese cinema. With that said, this will be the first time a live-action Japanese movie has been reviewed on 18 Cinema Lane! Because I don’t watch and/or review international movies often, I had never heard of Flying Colors. According to IMDB, this is a “fact-based tale” that, to me, sounded uplifting and inspirational. Those aforementioned words usually don’t come to mind when the subject of “college films” is brought up. So, before hitting the books and cramming for that upcoming test, take some time to read this review of Flying Colors!
Things I liked about the film:
The acting: Flying Colors revolves around Sayaka, a struggling student who receives the opportunity to improve her grades and apply to one of the top universities in Japan. Since this is a “coming-of-age” story, the project needed an actress who could effectively show the changes and growth happening within Sayaka’s life. Kasumi Arimura did just that, allowing this on-screen growth to appear natural! Specifically referring to the college application process, there are ups and downs along the way. One of those downs is academic burn-out. Sayaka becomes so frustrated by a stand-still in her academic journey, she chooses to take a break. This frustration is met with yelling at the tutor, Tsubota-Sensei, and an angry look on her face. Through Kasumi’s performance, the audience can see this frustration is not directed toward the tutor, but is coming from a place of self-doubt and insecurity. Later, when Sayaka shows up at her mother’s place of employment, she bursts into tears as soon as her mother approaches. This is in response to those earlier feelings of self-doubt and insecurity bubbling to the surface.
Because I brought up Tsubota-Sensei, I’m now going to talk about Atsushi Itô’s performance next! The on-screen camaraderie between Atsushi and Kasumi was strong, which made Sayaka and Tsubota-Sensei’s interactions memorable and enjoyable! In preparation for college entrance exams, Tsubota-Sensei creates a game where Sayaka has to give answers in a short amount of time. During one of these games, Sayaka lost, so she had to remove the false eyelashes she was wearing that day. This game is just one example of how Tsubota-Sensei not only created a lesson/study plan that was tailored to Sayaka’s interests, but also gave her the freedom to evolve as a student and young lady. At a restaurant with an investor, Tsubota-Sensei was given doubt about the effectiveness of his tutoring program. The investor also shares insults about Sayaka. Tsubota-Sensei comes to her and the program’s defense, appearing sure of Sayaka, himself, and the rest of his students. But if you look closely at his eyes, you can see how hurt Tsubota-Sensei is by the investor’s comments. These moments show how Atsushi Itô is a good actor individually and within an ensemble!
The messages and themes: As I said in the introduction, Flying Colors sounded uplifting and inspirational. This statement is true because of the messages and themes found within the story! Before seeking Tsubota-Sensei’s help, Sayaka was a junior in high school, whose grades were suffering. Her father feels she is a hopeless cause and her teacher is confident she won’t graduate high school. Despite all this doubt, Sayaka still puts effort into her academics, realizing there is more to her life than she initially thought. Her story shows the audience how it’s not too late to write a new chapter in their story. Throughout Flying Colors, Sayaka’s father pushes her brother, Ryuta, to become a professional baseball player. This has happened since he was a child, so Ryuta becomes burned out by all the pressure coming his way. The burn-out causes a dispute between him and his father, which ends up upsetting the whole family. Ryuta’s part of the film serves as a cautionary tale of how it isn’t wise to place all your eggs in one basket.
Sayaka’s wardrobe: When I talked about Atsushi Itô’s performance, I said his character, Tsubota-Sensei, allowed Sayaka the freedom to evolve as a student and young lady. One area of evolution is her wardrobe. At the beginning of the film, Sayaka places more emphasis on her looks than her grades. This is reflective in outfits that are colorful and considered “fashionable”. While at a tutoring session, Sayaka wears a yellow sundress covered in small pink and blue flowers. Complimenting the dress is a large, robin’s egg blue, flower necklace and a pair of yellow wedge shoes. As Sayaka grows into a studious, college hopeful, her outfits adopt an appearance that some would say is more “conversative”. Toward the end of the film, she wears a black and white plaid sweater dress, which looks more like a longer coat. Paired with black boots and a light blue scarf, this outfit shows how much Sayaka has matured since her story’s start.
What I didn’t like about the film:
Confusion over the college applications process: Because Flying Colors takes place in Japan, the college applications process is reflective of the Japanese educational system. While I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about Japan’s college applications process, there were times when I found myself confused. After taking some practice tests, Sayaka is frustrated when she receives a “E” score. But when she receives a “C” score, Sayaka becomes more confident in her academic abilities. Since I’m not familiar with Japan’s educational system, I wasn’t sure what these “E” and “C” scores meant. I also didn’t know the importance of the numbers and symbols on those practice tests. If you are unfamiliar with Japan’s educational system and/or college applications process, you might be as confused as I was.
An unresolved relationship: While attending Tsubota-Sensei’s tutoring sessions, Sayaka meets a male student who is taking the tutoring program for similar reasons. Like Sayaka, this student also changes his appearance over time, to reflect his new-found focus on his academics. As the story progresses, these characters become friendly with one another, with the script implying they might form a relationship. However, their interactions doesn’t really lead anywhere. I know not every on-screen relationship is meant to be romantic. But I wish the script had clarified where Sayaka and this male student stood in their bond.
The run-time: Flying Colors is an hour and fifty-six minutes. Even though it is a “coming-of-age” story, it is also a straight forward narrative. Because of this, I don’t think the movie needed to be almost two hours. Some of the practice testing scenes could have been eliminated, an example of how the run-time can be reduced. A few scenes related to Ryuta’s baseball training could have been cut too. With that said, the film’s run-time might be an hour and twenty-five to thirty minutes. This solution would have allowed the story to get straight to the point sooner.
My overall impression:
How I feel about Flying Colors is similar to how I feel about Red Corner. Both films have something important to say, while presenting strong acting performances and an intriguing story. But they were held back by their flaws. In the case of Flying Colors, the run-time is a bit too long. The college applications process of Japan was also confusing, as I’m not familiar with the components of this process. However, like Red Corner, I would recommend Flying Colors to anyone seeking international films, especially those from Japan! The delivery of the messages and themes feel genuine, making the audience feel good about what they watched. The interactions between the characters appear realistic, giving viewers a reason to stay invested in their journey. While I’m not sure how “fact-based” Flying Colors is, I’m glad I discovered this movie! Thanks to MovieRob and Jason from Agent Palmer, this review might not have existed if it wasn’t for Genre Grandeur.
Overall score: 7.2 out of 10
Do you watch Japanese films? If so, are there any you’d like to recommend to me? Please tell me in the comment section!
Have fun at the movies!