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Rainbow Song
Year: 2006
Juri Ueno and Hayato Ichihara
Director: Naoto Kumazawa
Writer: Ami Sakurai (also original story), Miyuki Saito, Amino San (Shunji Iwai)

Hayato Ichihara, Juri Ueno, Yu Aoi, Kyoko Asakura, Ami Suzuki, Fumiyo Kohinata, Shoko Aida, Kuranosuka Sasaki, Hiroyuki Onoue, Kei Tanaka

  The Skinny: A bittersweet romance drama co-written and produced by Shunji Iwai features both the best and the worst of the director's traits. Thankfully, the good tends to outweigh the bad, thanks to star Juri Ueno's performance.
Kevin Ma:

     Rainbow Song may be every Japanese male film student's fantasy: a young college guy falls slowly in love with a tough-minded aspiring female director who happens to look like cute young rising star Juri Ueno. In actuality, Rainbow Song is the first film from Playworks, Japanese director Shunji Iwai's program to nurture young screenwriters. That would explain why writer Ami Sakurai and director Naoto Kumazawa's object of affection seems to be Shunji Iwai youth movies such as Hana and Alice and Love Letter. Rainbow Song comes with all the usual Iwai traits: saturated cinematography, soft lighting, eccentric characters, and it even features Yu Aoi in a supporting role! However, like some Iwai movies, it's also overlong due to self-indulgence.
     Hayato Ichihara is Tomoya, a lowly and oft-abused production assistant at a small production company. One day, he receives a call that Aoi (Juri Ueno), his predecessor at the production company, has died in a plane crash in America. While assisting with the funeral arrangements, Tomoya begins to reflect on his past with Aoi, which actually spans all the way back to their college days. The two first met when Tomoya needed Aoi's help in pursuing another girl. While that doesn't pan out because of Tomoya's dubious strategies, a friendship slowly begins to emerge between the two when Aoi recruits him to act in her student film. A feeling that may be love begins to grow as their paths cross over the course of their student and professional lives, but that feeling unfortunately remains unrequited.
     After playing the over-the-top piano genius in the drama Nodame Cantabile and an enthusiastic but clumsy saxophone player in Swing Girls, Juri Ueno continues to prove that she's one of Japan's most promising young actresses with Rainbow Song. As a fierce young girl with a soft exterior, the film comes alive every time Ueno is on screen. Even when the film slows down to just Aoi and Tomoya having an extended discussion about girls, Ueno's performance keeps the film afloat and is a prime reason why Rainbow Song is worth watching.
     However, the protagonist of the film is actually Hayato Ichihara's Tomoya. While Ichihara matches the bumbling personality of Tomoya, he doesn't have the atmosphere of a leading man. This becomes a problem when the film takes a detour to a random episode involving Tomoya's girlfriend, a woman with a secret that only he doesn't know. While the episode's intention is apparent, the film strays too far away from its central relationship and focuses on a character that's not interesting enough to deserve such attention.
     Rainbow Song, like your traditional Iwai film, is not about twists and densely plotted stories. Even the most surprising event - Aoi's death - happens in the film's opening section, and is the starting point for the rest of the story. In fact, the knowledge of Aoi's impending death actually makes their "will-they-or-won't-they" relationship all the more bittersweet. However, the film takes a few detours too many, straying too often away from the central relationship. While there's no doubt that the central plotline is Tomoya and Aoi, the film could easily be 15 minutes shorter if someone had tightened the focus of the story.
     With the final script polished by Shunji Iwai himself (under the name Amino San) before production, Rainbow Song features both the best and the worst of the filmmaker's writing traits. His ability for crafting eccentric characters and amusing random episodes helps infuse some nice comic moments into the film. But that ability often sidetracks both Kumazawa's film and also Iwai's own films as well. Nevertheless, Rainbow Song remains a sentimental examination of "the one that got away" that should connect with a hip, twenty-something audience, regardless of their interest in Shunji Iwai or filmmaking. Of course, liking at least one of those things would probably help in the long run. (Kevin Ma 2007)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
  Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen