There's only one reason why I immediately wanted to see this film when I saw its poster in Taiwan.
It's produced (and written under a pseudonym, Aminosan) by Shunji Iwai.
He is, after all, one of my all-time favourite filmmakers and biggest influences with his beautiful lyrical works like LOVE LETTER (still one of the all-time favourites), ALL ABOUT LILY CHOU-CHOU (most beautiful digital cinematography ever) and HANA AND ALICE (most awe-inspiring ballet scene ever), I was curious to see whether this film would bear some of his touch.
RAINBOW SONG is directed by Naoto Kumazawa, a relatively new director. And its main cast consists of people you see regularly in Shunji Iwai films, the lead actor is Hayato Ichihara (the lead in ALL ABOUT LILY-CHOU CHOU, but more extroverted and funny in this film) and there's also a supporting role for my new favourite actress, Yui Aoi (also in ALL ABOUT LILY CHOU-CHOU, and as Alice who gave me the aforementioned awe-inspiring ballet scene in HANA AND ALICE). The lead actress is Juri Ueno, whom I recently saw in the very entertaining SWING GIRLS and the Takuya Kimura dorama ENGINE. She's a revelation in this film, or maybe she had a really good role.
It's a bittersweet film of unrealized love, loss and grief. It's interesting to me because filmmaking plays a rather big role in the film as both protagonists Tomoya Kishida (Hayato Ichihara) and Aoi Sato (Juri Ueno) work as staffers in a small production company, and they both bonded initially via a student film the latter was working on in university. Seeing Aoi reminds me of myself, during my university days. And seeing Tomoya's misadventures in the production company reminded me of myself in the present.
Aoi actually dies at the beginning of the film, in a plane crash on the way back to Japan from America. It's not really spoiler since it's revealed in the trailers, but the entire film is then unfold through a flashback, where we get to learn that Aoi and Tomoya's relationship, which initially seemed like colleagues and friends at first, is much deeper than expected. From their initial meeting, to their involvement in Aoi's student film, then to their gradually growing romance where both ended up denying (while driving audiences crazy), and finally leading up to the tragedy shown at the beginning of the film and its aftermath. Yu Aoi plays Aoi's visually-impaired younger sister.
It's essentially a Jun-Ai (pure, innocent love, it's a new genre) film, and if done by lesser filmmakers, this would have been manipulative, weepy and contrived, the kind of movie that might wring out some tears from you, but you'll end up feeling more violated than touched. That's how I felt when watching films like IMA AI NI YUKIMASU (the film, not the dorama, I'm a sucker for the dorama), CRYING FOR LOVE IN THE CENTER OF THE WORLD and NADA SOSO. But in this film, Shunji Iwai's influence are there, in terms of mood and aesthetics. Its somewhat humorous (but not forced and contrived), it's emotional but often understated and not melodramatic, and the filmmakers' unconventional use of handheld shots and lighting, along with the beautiful piano soundtrack, made me see some traces of ALL ABOUT LILY-CHOU CHOU and HANA AND ALICE.
Thus instead of feeling as if I were being assaulted visually with some stupid tear-inducing and often illogical plot points, I enjoyed this film, not just in an emotional sense, but also in a technical sense. There are moments in the film where I would go "hmmm... how did he get that shot?" "oooh, this is a nice shot, great lighting!" etc etc. You won't see me thinking as a filmmaker when watching most Japanese studio tearjerkers (I merely stare numbly and make colourless wisecracks).
You can check out the official Japanese site of the film, or its official Taiwanese blog (the Taiwanese title for the film is 電影情人夢 which is loosely translated as 'The Dream of Film Lovers', while Mainland China goes for a more direct translation of RAINBOW SONG, 彩虹之歌). The actual Japanese title is really translated as 'RAINBOW GODDESS'.
The film has its flaws, which is shared by some of Iwai's films. It does feel a little too long (paring it down a little would've helped the pacing, even though I was very engaged with the film), it might be a wee bit too indulgent, and showing Aoi's nearly 10-minute short film in its entirety is a pay-off, but the short film isn't really THAT good, so whatever emotions it was meant to generate (bittersweetness?) just didn't seem to work well. But it still beats watching TOKYO FRIENDS: THE MOVIE, or BIZAN (another sobfest I watched in the plane to Taiwan starring Nanako Matsushima , watched that right after TOKYO FRIENDS).
Jpop singer Suzuki Ami is also in the film, but her role so tiny (she had only 2-3 scenes at most) that I didn't even notice until I checked the credits.
Interview with Juri Ueno
Interview with director Naoto Kumazawa
Er, Chinese theme song for the film