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Review: Flying Colors

Japan Society is gearing up for Japan Cuts, its annual showcase of notable new films from the Land of the Rising Sun, and to celebrate, they held a special encore screening of Flying Colors, the winner of last year’s Audience Award.

What the movie lacks in cinematic style, it more than makes up for with pure charm; it’s the kind of heartwarming, uplifting underdog story that’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face. The protagonist, a lazy, airheaded high school student, has always been dismissed and belittled by the adults in her life (with the sole exception of her eternally patient mother). When her delinquent behavior gets her suspended, further harming her already dismal academic prospects, a (perhaps overly optimistic) cram school tutor encourages her to prove her doubters wrong by taking the entrance exam for a prestigious college with a notoriously low acceptance rate. Inspired by this newfound support, our heroine hits the books—and, in the process, discovers the courage, confidence, and tenacity that she never knew she possessed.

Director Nobuhiro Doi effortlessly juggles heart and humor; a few scenes veer dangerously close to melodrama, but he always manages to recover with an expertly-timed joke. And while the protagonist’s meteoric rise from barely-literate ditz to ace student occasionally strains credulity, Kasumi Arimura’s earnest performance makes it easy to get swept up in the journey, from the small triumphs to the bouts of depression and self-doubt. It’s not difficult to see why it was so popular among festivalgoers; Flying Colors is a classic crowd-pleaser, and I’d happily recommend it even to someone who doesn’t normally enjoy foreign films—its themes and emotional core are universal.

[Originally written June 2, 2017.]

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