Flying Colours (2015)

After finding it difficult to make friends at her school, Ayaka’s sympathetic mother gets her enrolled in a top high school. Ayaka soon settles in to her new school and makes a group of friends. Unfortunately, her education soon takes second place to fashion, make-up and having fun. When she is suspended from the school after cigarettes are found in her bag, her despairing mother decides to enrol her in a cram school. Ayaka (Kasumi Arimura) is at the bottom of her class, but the encouragement of the teacher Tsubota (Atsushi Ito) persuades her to apply for the prestigious Keio University.

Based on a novel by Nobutaka Tsubota, based in part on his own experiences, the film is directed by Nobuhiro Doi from a screenplay by Hiroshi Hashimoto. “Flying Colours” is an interesting film in that it begins as a straightforward comedy, complete with jokes about Ayaka’s complete ignorance of even basic concepts and facts about any subject, but transforms into more of a serious drama as it progresses. It is a little unbalanced in this regard, as the jokes tail off almost completely in the middle third only to return later on in the film. Kasumi Arimura is entertaining as Ayaka, going from airheaded teen to conscientious student. Atsushi Ito is also great as Tsubota, dispensing words of wisdom to his students and emboldening them with his own love of learning. The actors portraying Ayaka’s mother (Yo Yoshida), father (Tetsushi Tanaka), brother (Yuhei Ouchida) and sister (Kokoro Okuda) are fantastic and there is a lot of time spent with the family. Also, Shuhei Nomura as Reiji, who is forced to attend the cram school by his overbearing mother. The cinematography by Yasushi Hanamura perfectly captures the magical essence of teen life. In particular shots of Ayaka cycling past a sunset and the camera work with family and friends create an emotional journey that carries you along with the characters.

“Flying Colours” shows a particular subculture of Japan, that will nevertheless be familiar to high schools everywhere. Teenage life is an interesting time and this film captures that uncertainty about the future balanced with the notion that every moment of youth is important to cherish. It is clear that Ayaka is at a crossroads, something that is made clear to her when she visits Keio University and understands that getting accepted could change everything about her path in life. The film also deals with some quite difficult issues surrounding family relations. Ayaka’s father is an almost monstrous caricature of a patriarchal figure who has little to no time for his daughters. He spends all his time focusing on his son, to the detriment of Ayaka’s education and upbringing. The film lays the blame squarely at his door for this failing. Meanwhile her mother is kind and supportive. This male-female divide is a pointed statement on the patriarchal tendency of traditional family dynamics. A hugely enjoyable film with fantastic performances, a great sense of fun balanced with more serious themes, and an uplifting message about trying hard to overcome any obstacle.