ももいろそらを (Momoiro sora o)
Director: Keiichi Kobayashi
Running time: 113 min.
Reviewed by Marc Saint-Cyr
Keiichi Kobayashi’s debut feature “About the Pink Sky,” which won the Japanese Eyes section at the 2011 Tokyo International Film Festival, opens with one of those story devices that works so well for getting the main character moving along on a course towards different people, places and events. High school student Izumi (Ai Ikeda) finds a dropped wallet that contains ¥300,000 in cash and the owner’s I.D. After doing a little research, she discovers that the wallet’s young owner is the son of the head of the Horse Racing Association of Chiba – in other words, someone who enjoys a fairly privileged lifestyle. After freely loaning ¥200,000 of the loot to a middle-aged acquaintance facing trouble finding work, Izumi unwisely reveals her find to her two friends Hasumi (Ena Koshino) and Kaoru (Reiko Fujiwara). They all go to the wallet’s owner, Kouki Sato (Tsubasa Takayama), who notices the missing money’s absence, confronts Izumi about it and soon enlists her and her friends for an unusual project as a means of compensation.
This bare-bones description of the film’s premise doesn’t even begin to do justice to the actual viewing experience it offers. Kobayashi, who wrote, directed, edited and shot the film himself, chose a very specific style consisting of gorgeous, silvery monochrome and a soundtrack layered with background noise, yet devoid of music. But while in certain points such features might recall Robert Bresson or Michael Haneke, those severe masters of concentrated, sensory cinema, the unpredictable narrative trajectory and frequent flashes of casual, light-hearted humor create a different impression, constantly compelling the viewer to adjust expectations and eventually submit to its curious nature. Shot in various quiet urban locales with many long takes, “About the Pink Sky” provides a crisp yet slightly distorted snapshot of contemporary Japan. After a certain point, the near-total absence of adults becomes quite apparent, colliding with Kobayashi’s other stylistic choices to make the experience resemble a neat assortment of carefully edited memories of youth that still manage to reflect its aimlessness, comedy, drama, absurdity and vividness. Just as viewers go from scene to scene, Izumi goes from moment to moment in this compact segment of her young life, having no idea what the outcome of her impulsive decisions and dilemmas will be.
Which brings me to possibly the film’s finest quality: the extremely solid performances given by the cast of young, inexperienced actors. Ai Ikeda in particular is delightful as she gives a fantastically naturalistic characterization laced with great little mannerisms and subtleties. Whether viewers will actually like her Izumi will depend on whether they see her stubbornness, immaturity and whip-smart sass as obnoxious yet endearing or simply obnoxious. In any case, Ikeda puts great effort into her portrayal of the snarky teenager – at times, it seems, the ultimate snarky teenager – carefully making the most of her screen time. Whether whispering to herself in a sort of vocalized interior monologue, twisting her face into cheeky facial expressions or even, in one scene, discreetly pushing an unpaid bill towards an unsuspecting Sato without breaking their conversation, she always seems to be packing another little glimmer of personality into the film.
Throughout “About the Pink Sky,” Izumi maintains a hobby of reading newspaper stories and, with the bold slashes of a marker, coolly grading them based on her skeptical worldview. This is very much in keeping with her character as she frequently gives in to bouts of smugness, entitlement and indifference in response to the situations she comes across. One could see this behavior as her personal defense mechanism against a deceptive and imbalanced world – and indeed, over the course of the film there are many instances of seemingly simple or obscure appearances giving way to more complex and, occasionally, unfortunate truths. Gradually, we learn more about her friend Kaoru’s job in which she chats online with older men (she assures Izumi that the conversations haven’t yet veered into sexual territory) in order to lessen her family’s financial burdens, which are largely brought about by her mother’s taste for expensive designer brands. Izumi’s other friend, Hasumi, reveals herself to be quite vain, bossy and tragically susceptible to dreams of romance. But it is through Sato that Izumi matures the most; his job for the girls, which involves creating a homemade newspaper that only delivers good news, is all for a sick, hospitalized friend of his named Kazumi. In the face of such greater forces as illness, chance and genuine innocence, Izumi’s egotistical façade is all but bound to buckle, bringing about humorous, ironic and poignant results alike.
Surely, “About the Pink Sky” is an unusual coming-of-age film that will likely throw off some viewers with its lack of conventional dramatic structure or emphatic plot points. Yet the drifting approach to story, aesthetic beauty and admirable performances all add compelling degrees of realism and poetry to this wonderfully idiosyncratic effort. According to an interview with The Hollywood Reporter for his film’s appearance at Sundance, Kobayashi hopes to next make a project about an otaku couple, which should be a most interesting subject when presented from this director’s unique perspective.