Sundance Review: About the Pink Sky (in competition, World Dramatic)

Ai Ikeda as Isumi in "About the Pink Sky"

By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)

Perhaps the Sundance gatekeepers were swayed by the fact that the film was shot in a somewhat hazy black and white. But with its slight story, seemingly more suited to a short film than a feature, untrained actors and lethargic direction, sitting through About the Pink Sky is about as riveting as sitting through bumper-to-bumper traffic pouring into Sundance during the film festival’s opening weekend.

The movie opens with a quote from the protagonist as she looks back from the year 2035, reflecting on her younger days. (An unnecessary device, since the future is never brought to bear on the proceedings again.) Back to the present we go, to the schoolgirl Izumi (Ai Ikeda) who spies a wallet on the ground. She wrestles with her conscience immediately, even before she picks up. Should she or shouldn’t she? When she realizes that the wallet is stuffed with 300,000 yen (almost $4,000 US), she knows she has to return it. She makes a half-hearted attempt, but once she discovers that the wallet belongs to Sato (Tsubasa Takayama), the son of a local corrupt official, she rationalizes the necessity of returning it right away. Instead, she lends some of the found lucre to a fisherman friend in need. Her two best friends later force her to return the wallet — but since Sato realizes that a hefty amount of yen has gone missing, he devises a unique way for Izumi to pay off the debt. Sato has a sick friend in the hospital, he tells her, and wants her to console the friend by creating a newspaper that contains only happy stories. Soon, power struggles ensue between Sato, Izumi and her two school pals over the day-to-day minutia of publishing the amateur good-news gazette.

First time feature director Keiichi Kobayashi leisurely strolls through a story that doesn’t warrant the slow pace; in actuality, the film might have been improved with a hefty dose of the upbeat. We wait for action … lingering at front stoops, loitering at street corners, walking down hallways. Maybe something will happen. And then again, maybe not.

(l to r) Ai Ikeda, Reiko Fujiwara, Ena Koshino in "About the Pink Sky"

As for the actors, it’s painfully obvious that they’re untrained. Perhaps this explains Kobayashi’s tendency to favor long shots, in which we see three or four characters in the frame, always a safe distance away from the camera’s harsh eye … and often with their hair hiding a goodly portion of their faces. Even given this subterfuge, we can’t help but notice the actors’ discomfort as they’re directed to perform stiff, inorganic moves that don’t read as credible.

Other issues puzzle. Why is Izumi looking through current newspapers at a library to research facts in these modern times? Google is mentioned, as are video chats … is the Japanese internet experiencing some sort of power outage? As for casting, the fisherman is referred to as very old — yet the actor looks to be in his thirties at most. On the other side of the spectrum, a contemporary of the teenage Sato seems much closer in age to a younger brother.

About the Pink Sky is about a character’s self-recrimination — yet it seems altogether disingenuous for the protagonist to assess her actions in such a dark light. She generously lends money to an acquaintance without insisting on an I.O.U., or even payback; later, she makes reparations to friends as soon as possible. Aside from the occasional sulk, and defensive reactions when her acquaintances treat her poorly (which they often do), this young girl is far from some black-hearted miscreant who requires a thorough moral realignment.

We shouldn’t be too harsh on the girl … but as for the film? Well, that’s a horse of a different color. And it’s probably not pink.

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Rating on a scale of 5 yen for yen: 1

Written and directed by: Keiichi Kobayashi
Cast: Ai Ikeda, Ena Koshino, Reiko Fujiwara, Tsubasa Takayama
Running Time: 113 minutes

About Kimberly Gadette

Film critic Kimberly Gadette, born and raised in movie-centric L.A., believes celluloid may very well be a part of her DNA. Having received her BA and MFA from UCLA's School of Theater, Film & Television, she spent many of her formative years as an actress (film, tv, commercials, stage) before she literally changed perspective, finding a whole new POV from the other side of the camera. You can find her last 450+ reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/kimberly-gadette/). Other than taking the occasional side trip to Cannes or Sundance, you can find her at the movies ... sitting in the dark as usual.

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