Based on a true story, Flying Colors stars Kasumi Arimura as Sayaka, an incredibly dumb high school girl who is on the verge of failing all of her classes. The materialistic teen is sent to a cram school by her mother where she meets an incredibly optimistic and inspiring teacher, Tsubota-Sensei (Atsushi Ito), who, through unorthodox methods, attempts to bring her education level up to high school standards so that she can get into one of the toughest universities in Japan – something that he friends, family (except her mom) and teachers think is a wild joke. Determined to prove everyone wrong and not disappoint her very supportive mother, Sayaka begins devoting all of her free time to studying, even when trying to socialize, and, with time, begins to see improvements. Will she manage to shock her peers or will she fall short despite being driven and focused?
Flying Colors is a pretty enjoyable movie. It takes certain aspects to extremes and follows a story arc that’s pretty similar to Legally Blonde. Sayaka isn’t just a ditzy teenager the way Elle Woods was a fashionista with some smarts, she’s incredibly stupid, not realizing that Japan is made up of more than one island, to give you an example. It’s fun to see how she becomes inspired and how Tsubota-Sensei manages to motivate her while, at the same time, using her struggles at home to really kick-start her life and get focused on moving forward. Her father is a tough-loving father who rides Sayaka’s brother hard so that he can get into a great baseball program and turn pro, which he couldn’t do. The hatred that exists at home really helps fuel Sayaka and, for us an audience, is rather inspiring to watch.
The other aspect I enjoyed was the male equivalent of Sayaka in the cram school, Reiji (Shûhei Nomura). He’s a bad-boy who really takes a liking to Sayaka and tries to become a better person that also takes his studies seriously thanks to her inspirational development. What could have easily turned into a budding romance settles in slyly as a tease story, one where the romantic tension is palpably.
My issue with Flying Colors is that while it’s crafted nicely and well directed, it’s about 15 minutes too long. As a result, there’s a bunch of repetition when it comes to study sessions and sometimes you forget how much time has gone by in the story because of how much Sayaka has learned. It would have been wise to include visual date cards to give us a better idea of the timeline and find a fun way to edit them into the story.
I also found that because of the predictability of the story arc, it ended up not being as gratifying of a film as it could have been. On the comedic side, there were a few chuckles here and there but nothing to give you a good hearty laugh; on the dramatic side, the conflicts were pretty standard and everything seemed to iron itself out rather quickly which resulted in me being less invested in the story than I could have been.
On paper Flying Colors had the potential to be just as joyous and entertaining as Legally Blonde was, but it generally falls flat on getting a lot of laughs out of its viewers. The movie isn’t bad and may resonate well with those familiar with the Japanese school system, but just don’t go in expecting to have a wildly fun time. In the end, Flying Colors is a cute, mildly entertaining, run-of-the-mill movie about a girl overcoming some serious odds to better herself as a human and prove to the world she isn’t a loser.