Kudo is the sort like Reese Witherspoon in Legally
Blonde, except she has real issues and real adversity to overcome if she
hopes to make it into her first choice school. She could not even spell Keio
University before she enrolled in Seiho Cram School, but she might have a
puncher’s chance at admittance in Nobuhiro Doi’s Flying Colors (trailer here), which screens during this year’s Japan Cuts: Festival of New Japanese Film in New York.
was constantly bullied during elementary and middle school, but she found
acceptance in high school when she fell in the gum-smacking mini-skirt-wearing
clique. Doing shockingly little academic work, Kudo and her friends are at the
absolute bottom of their class, but they have fun shopping and doing karaoke.
However, when she is indefinitely suspended, her protective mother Akari
enrolls her in Seiho, where she will be tutored by Yoshitaka Tsubota, the Jaime
Escalante of cram schools. He might be slightly nebbish, but the dedicated
Tsubota has a knack for adapting his pedagogical approach to suit each pupil. He
will face his greatest challenge with Kudo, given her fourth grade reading
level, but she will work with him, rather than against him.
course, nobody believes in Kudo besides Akari Kudo and Tsubota-san, least of
all her disinterested father. Instead, Toru Kudo obsesses over her brother’s
high school baseball career, which puts crushing pressure on poor Ryuta. Her
high school teachers similarly dismiss her ambitions, but her hard-partying
friends embrace her dream, even when that means letting go rather than holding
might think you know where Doi is taking the film—and you probably have the
right general idea, but it cuts way deeper than you expect. Based on a real
life cram school teacher’s autobiographical novel, Flying fully explores the sources of Kudo’s insecurities and
alienation. After walking in her stiletto heels through the first ten minutes,
it is hard to begrudge her choices. It is also hard to forgive her jerkheel
father, but Doi and screenwriter Hirohi Hashimoto just might manipulate us into
doing it anyway.
Flying is the sort of
film that gives just about every character their fifteen minutes to explore
their flaws and earn forgiveness. It is a defiantly humanistic film, powered by
Kasumi Arimura’s remarkably rich and complex performance. She is not just a
bubbly airhead. We see her mature and come into herself. It is a rather
remarkable process that puts Witherspoon’s shtick to shame.
we learn very little about Tsubota’s private life, but Atsushi Ito’s earnest
portrayal is still quite compelling, in a Stand
and Deliver kind of way. Yo Yoshida is exquisitely heart breaking as Akari,
while Tetsushi Tanaka perfectly pivots as her disappointed-by-life father. Shuhei
Nomura never comes on too strong as her potential cram school love interest,
Reiji Mori, while Airi Matsui, Honami Kurashita, and Nanami Abe show unexpected
grace as Kudo’s Kogal posse.
It is always refreshing to see a film that
values academic achievement. It is also a pleasure to see young talent stake
their claim to the future on-screen. Flying
should definitely take Arimura to the next level up, both commercial and
critically. She is a revelation, but she is also surrounded by young, but
ridiculously polished talent. If ever a film could be called a sure-fire crowd
pleaser, it would be Flying Colors. Very
highly recommended for teens and anyone who ever felt like a screw-up, it
screens this Sunday (7/24) at the Japan Society, as part of Japan Cuts 2016.
Labels: High School Movies, Japan Cuts '16, Japanese Cinema