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Year: 2011
Country:
Japan
Language: Japanese
Director: Kobayashi Keiichi
Screenplay: Kobayashi Keiichi
Cinematography: Kobayashi Keiichi
Soundscore: No soundscore.
Cast: Ikeda Ai, Koshino Ena, Fujiwara Reiko, Takayama Tsubasa, Togetsuan Hakuysu
Runtime: 117 min
Distribution: Uzumasa
Official webpage: http://www.momoirosora.jp (日本語/English)
Official FB page: https://www.facebook.com/thePinkSky?fref=ts
Twitter: @momoirosorawo

Trailer (subtitled):

Seen at the Raindance Film Festival in London, where Momoira Sora wo had its UK premiere and screened twice.

The heroine of Momoiro Sora wo is called Kawashima Izumi (Ikeda Ai). Izumi has no superpowers – she is not that kind of heroine, but rather an ordinary seventeen year-old girl. Izumi is gutsy and frank. She reacts impulsively – whipping water with a fishing rod a gazillion times in a sudden and extended explosion of frustration – and gives a wide, sheepish smile when she is fibbing, which happens on a regular basis. Although she doesn’t always know what she actually wants, she stays true to herself even if her sense of fairness is a little warped, at least from the point of view of others.

When she finds a wallet full of cash – 300,000¥ (~2600 GBP/3000 Euros/3800 US$) to be precise – in the street one day, she soon realises that the owner, Kōki Sato (Takayama Tsubasa), is the son of a wealthy, corrupt politician and concludes that must be dirty money, hence best not returned. Instead, she decides to put the cash to good use, but, Izumi being Izumi, doesn’t keep it to indulge herself. She loans most of it to a cash-strapped adult acquaintance from the fishing place she frequents and, still left with another 100,000¥, intends to treat her friends Ono Hasumi (Koshino Ena) and Mayuzumi Kaoru (Fujiwara Reiko) to a bite. The girls however soon get suspicious and, unlike Izumi’s adult friend, are more insistent on finding out where the money came from. To make a long story short, Izumi fesses up and after Hasumi develops an instant teenage-crush on Sato’s ID picture (also in the wallet), the trio marches off to the guy’s house to return what is rightfully his. With cash missing, however, it’s not the end of the story, Sato later confronting our heroine and commissioning payback in the form of ‘positive news’: a home-made newspaper containing only reports of all the good things happening in the neighbourhood and the wider world so as to cheer up hospitalised friend of his.

Oh-so-honest girls... or maybe not.

Oh-so-honest high school girls… or maybe not.

Like in many other not-so-mainstream Japanese films, there is little plot that follows from this point on, but what we get is a glimpse into a few days of teenagedom (though vaguely spread over an unspecified, longer period of time) during which Izumi and her friends assemble all the quasi-happy news they can find. It is a snapshot which reminds us that randomicity and intensity rule adolescence, depicting friendships that are like mood swings and emotions that explode in one moment and deflate like a balloon loosing air in another. The focus is squarely on Izumi, who provides the narrative perspective for the camera and whose character consequently is the only one which is fully developed. She is, we learn, quirky to the point of silly or even immature in her behaviour and habits – she rates news stories according their negativity factor and hollers at speed cameras1 until they start blinking – but ultimately has her heart in the right place. Even if quarrelling with her two BFFs so frequently that it makes one question whether their childhood friendship2 is slowly running its course, she still concocts a plan to mitigate Hasumi’s heartbreak and, even more significantly, demonstrates great kindness towards Sato in the moment he needs it the most, both with the thoughtful gift she brings and the wonderfully awkward (indeed, completely not pc) questions she has for him in the film’s final scene.

Other characters – the other girls, Izumi’s adult acquaintance, Sato – are painted in much broader strokes. Hasumi changes her name like other people socks, always expecting those around her to keep up, heck, even guess her latest moniker before having announced it. She is generally a rather self-centred and bossy individual, demonstrating a complete change of demeanour in the interactions with her boyfriend-to-be and those with Izumi &  Kaoru. Kaoru, meanwhile, is more difficult to figure out. For much of the film she is no more than a monkey-in-the-middle of her friends, seemingly with no opinion of her own at all but a rather pendular loyalty (when asked who is more beautiful, she responds that Izumi is more her type but later declares she prefers Hasumi). Neither the selfish Hasumi nor the wishy washy Kaoru appear very sympathetic, at least not until we discover the true reason for the latter’s semi-sleezy part-time job, hinting at a life more complicated than what is visible at the surface and a personality that is much stronger than the malleable individual previously depicted. While no clues are given as to what might be behind the former’s behaviour, the (somewhat unfortunately) brief, but significant revelation about Hasumi as well as another one about Sato, serve as a reminder that it is perhaps best not to judge too quickly as there may be more to each person’s story.

Flooded by light.

Cinematography flooded by light.

Momoiro Sora wo comes in black & white, a choice likely to be derided as pretentious. But why not black & white? The cinematography – done by the director himself, who also wrote the script for his debut feature film – is memorably distinct with its hazy images flooded by bright lights. The results are certainly what Kobayashi himself aimed for:

The reason why I shot it in black and white: The present quickly becomes the past. The message I wanted to convey was the idea of being in the present and living life, taking in each moment. I shot the whole movie myself. I’d only ever shot stuff just for fun, so I spent six months training myself. It was a real challenge capturing light. The theme of the cinematography was ‘reflection.’ (quote)

The film notably also doesn’t cave to colour in the one moment when other novice filmmakers likely would have, underlining that the black & white imagery is not there just for the sake of an artsy spectacle, but just because it is.

Worth mentioning is also Momoiro Sora wo‘s soundscore: there is, with the exception of a few notes of classical music in a café scene, none. Kobayashi opts for a natural (though not necessarily completely unedited) sounds: words exchanged between characters, Izumi muttering to herself, the rumblings of the streets or even plain silence. Much like with the colour scheme, this is not the kind of approach that most viewers are used to and may therefore question, but it compliments Koyabashi’s overall style for Momoiro Sora wo well.

Things are not always what they seem.

Overall Verdict: There is, undeniably, very little that happens in Momoiro Sora wo, which depicts a few, somewhat offbeat but not especially exciting days in the lives of several teenagers. There is, most likely, also no message behind the story – it is a snapshot of the mundane, a merciless portrait of moody teenagers who will quickly annoy with their 5-minute baka shouting matches. Added to that come black & white visuals (always easily criticised), filmed with a handheld camera (ditto), and a minimalistic soundscore (ditto once more), making Momoiro Sora wo a film that is unlikely to appeal to the masses – indeed, even the reviews of indie movie critics are rather divided. It did, however, work for me, thanks to the flawed but ultimately very likeable heroine and Kobayashi’s willingness to go his own way, no matter what. Last but not least, I also appreciated the fact that Momoiro Sora wo made no story out of something that it very well could have, providing us with a film that has normalised – as we should – an issue that in 2013 we are still debating off-screen and on.3

Rating: 8/10 (Note: if I rationally think about this score, I feel tempted to lower it to 7 or 7.5, but on a purely instinctive level I enjoyed the film more than that.).

Footnotes

1 Actually, I’m not entirely sure what she is yelling at – I’m guessing here.
2 It is not explicitly stated that the girls are childhood friends, but given that they attend different high schools this is what I would presume.
3 I’m being purposefully vague here, so as not to give anything away!

Bonus Bits:

  • Q&A from the Sundance Film Festival, where Momoiro Sora wo first premiered.
  • Indiewire’s Meet the 2012 Sundance Filmmaker interview with Kobayashi.
  • Official Facebook page
  • Momoira Sora wo is the director’s first feature film, but he previously directed music videos, TV programmes and commercials.
  • Momoiro Sora wo won the Best Picture Award at the 2011 Tokyo International Film Festival and the top award at the Gijón International Film Festival.
  • Reviews: Jfilm Pow-Wow, Seino Yoshito for Eastern KicksLibertas Film Magazine, Ioncinema, Twitchfilm, Wildgrounds – generally opinions about this film are very divided.
  • There may be a cultural element in the rather different views about the film. Mark Schilling, from the Japan Times, writes that it turns “the saccharine conventions of the seishun eiga (youth drama) genre on their heads with a stubbornly individual teenage heroine (Ai Ikeda) and an ingeniously plotted story that revolves around not the usual love troubles, but rather a lost wallet” (quote). While I’m not sure I agree about the “ingeniously plotted story”, I could see that for non-Japanese viewers the breaking of conventions might be less obvious and insignificant.

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