So many reasons to throw in the towel,
To give up the ghost or abandon all hope.
Most are ignored with a tear or a scowl,
But some pile up on the few who can’t cope.
Life can be cruel, like the people who fill it,
But there are more ways to improve it than death.
Life can be bright for the people who will it,
Who see all the reasons to take their next breath.
Ordinary People’s Rating: R (for language)
Colorful’s Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material)
I haven’t done a double review since my comparison of I Am Legend and World War Z, and I thought it was about time for another, especially because I’ve found two similar films of late. It may seem odd to compare an Oscar-winner from 1980 with a recent anime film that few outside of Japan have heard of, but both movies share a particularly moving brand of family drama, depicted through the experiences of a suicidal boy.
Ordinary People marked the directorial debut of Robert Redford and also confirmed that Mary Tyler Moore could handle much more dramatic roles than her comedic TV persona. A favorite of my VC’s and what I term a AAA movie (because it’s All About the Acting), the Best Picture winner of 1980 features Timothy Hutton as Conrad Jarrett, a troubled boy who seems perfectly ordinary on the outside, as does his encouraging father (Donald Sutherland) and distant mother (Moore). He’s part of the choir, he’s on the swim team, and his parents go to dinner parties. Yet behind this ordinary façade lie demons that led him to try to take his own life. Through the insight of a psychiatrist (Oscar nominee Judd Hirsch), feelings of guilt and love are exposed like a raw nerve, and his relationships are both strengthened and strained by his coming to terms with the past. The powerful scenes between Conrad and Dr. Berger won Hutton a Best Supporting Actor Oscar and foreshadowed similar psychiatric purging in films like Good Will Hunting. In addition, the tension between Conrad and his glacial mother is both pitiable and realistic, especially for those who have endured similar indifference from a parent. While trauma endures and relationships are not all wrapped up cleanly with a bow by the end, there is hope that happiness and recovery are attainable for those who can let go of the past. (It was also interesting seeing early roles for Adam Baldwin and [Lost alert] Fredric Lehne.)
Colorful, which was nominated as an Excellent Animation of the Year at the 2010 Japanese Academy Awards, begins with an unnamed sinful soul in the afterlife being given a second chance. He is to be placed in the body of a boy named Makoto who committed suicide and will be given a limited time to make amends for his own past sins while learning why Makoto killed himself. This Quantum Leap-inspired premise is consistently intriguing as the new Makoto struggles to adapt to his new environment while being somewhat guided by an invisible “angel” of sorts (similar to the hologram Al). He learns that his mother had an affair and that his middle school crush is no better morally, and bullying played a role as well. Whereas Ordinary People pits the mother against the son, here it is “Makoto” who will not forgive his mother, always believing the worst of her and of most people, until he begins to look past himself.
Unlike Ordinary People, though, Colorful has some very apparent flaws, mainly in the character interactions. While the rotoscoped backgrounds are quite realistic, many conversations are strangely stilted in ways that go beyond the average English dub, particularly in scenes with an awkward girl who won’t leave Makoto alone. Yet, while I was considering writing the film off for its weaknesses, its poignant strength sneaked up on me. The pacing is slow and sometimes dragged out, but tension often emerges in quiet ways, in contrast to the emotional fireworks of Ordinary People. Characters that initially seem odd or distant turn out to have much more depth, and the eventual familial catharsis was disarmingly powerful. Despite its faults, Colorful boasts the kind of emotions that would probably earn acting Oscars if adapted properly to live action.
While these two films may seem very different visually, both Ordinary People and Colorful feature ultimately life-affirming messages in the wake of attempted suicide. While the former explores survivor guilt and loveless parents, the latter depicts the difficulty of forgiveness and the cost of infidelity. Both are beautiful films in their own way as they highlight how ordinary families cope with tragedy and how a single friend can make an enormous difference in one’s life.
Best line (from Ordinary People): (Dr. Berger) “A little advice about feelings, kiddo: don’t expect it always to tickle.”
Rank: List-Worthy (both)
© 2015 S. G. Liput
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