By Roxy Simons.
Nobuhiro Doi’s new film argues that no student is a lost cause and that no child should be left behind. Adapted from the best-selling book —and true story— How a Teen Girl Went from Academic Absurdity to an Elite University in One Amazing Year, the film focuses on Sayaka Kudou, a girl who is the worst student of her year. Having struggled to make any friends in elementary school, Sayaka decided, with her mother’s blessing, to focus more on enjoying herself rather than studying for school. This has meant that her academic level has become stagnant, though, and her knowledge is now on the same level as that of 4th grade elementary student. To almost everyone around her it looks like it’ll take a miracle for her to even finish her studies, but all she needs is for one teacher to believe in her potential.
Working in a cram school, Yoshitaka Tsubota is determined to support all of his students and adapts his teaching methods to their individual circumstances. So when Sayaka turns up in his office after being suspended from school, he encourages her to aim for one of the country’s top universities: Keio. His optimism makes her happy, and it doesn’t take long for her to start believing it’s possible to go to Keio. The fact that she’s avoided her studies for five years, though, means that it won’t be an easy feat.
Such classroom turnarounds are nothing new in Japanese fiction — they are, after all, the stuff that Tetsuko Kuroyanagai’s best-selling memoir Totto-chan was made of. Despite such precedents, when Sayaka starts out there are very few people that believe that her dream is plausible. Her school teachers call her scum, her friends want to have fun every night, and her father is too busy focusing on making Sayaka’s younger brother a pro-baseball player to take her efforts seriously. But no matter how many times her mother is called into school, she is still proud of her daughter and wants her to continue to do her best. That she remains the pillar in the family and keeps things together despite hardships and family clashes is touching.
Yoshitaka, meanwhile, uses amusing teaching methods to build her interest in particular subjects, such as making her read a manga history of Japan. He’s fun and supportive, able to adapt himself to each student so that they are on the same page and this is exactly what Sayaka needs to do well. Even her friends are helpful, deciding that they would prefer her to study rather spending her evenings with them. Their support helps Sayaka through her studies, and as she becomes more determined to make the dream a reality it’s hard not to root for her to succeed.
It is Sayaka that steals the show. Her unwavering resolve, charisma and wit make her the heart of the story, and Kasumi Arimura’s compelling performance makes the story even more fun to watch. She is strong and determined but also makes mistakes and is able to learn from them; that’s what makes her so relatable. Flying Colours is a classic underdog tale of someone going from the bottom to the top, but it doesn’t feel haggard. It’s a heart-warming and entertaining film, and thanks to an excellent cast it demonstrates that no child should be wrtten off just because of poor grades.
Flying Colours is playing as part of the Japan Foundation tour of UK cinemas.