Coming Back Sunny (Japan, 2020)

At a time when minimalism is trending as a style in Japanese indie cinema, Noriko Yuasa distinguishes herself through adventurous use of color and editing to add to the emotional space of her works. Her colorfulness enriched Looking For My Lost Sunflowers (2014) where the bright yellow of the flowers symbolized the warmth of a salaryman’s hometown nostalgia, the sharply contrasting blues, reds and grays in Girl, Wavering (2015) reflected a teenage girl’s rough adolescence, and the visual tricks of Ordinary Everyday (2017) created a reality that became increasingly fractured until a shock ending. With her latest short film, Coming Back Sunny, Yuasa uses strong colors to visualize the emotions of a high school girl’s first encounter with love.

Coming Back Sunny follows 17-year-old Shiori (Riria Kojima) who lives in the small city of Kawagoe. Shiori suffers from achromatopsia which means she cannot distinguish between the colors red and green, both of which look brown in her eyes. Interacting with the world can be frustrating since she misses the beauty that others see. This frustration has not only left her feeling uncomfortable in social situations but has even made her prematurely misanthropic. One source of relief is her best friend, Yumi (Honoka Yoneyama), who is a constant companion and the person closest to her heart.

Change soon comes to Shiori’s world when Yumi picks up a rare colorless petal she finds on the ground and takes a photograph of it. The flash of the camera leads to a flash of color as the petal becomes tinged with a deep red. This burst of red is Shiori’s first time recognizing the color and it is a revelatory moment that motivates her pursuit of more petals. As Shiori chases red petals to some seemingly predestined meeting, she begins to suspect it presages a meeting with a fated love but her path isn’t going to be smooth.

Coming Back Sunny was originally Yuasa’s contribution to the omnibus movie Seishun Kaleidoscope, a collection of three youth-themed stories which was released in Japan in 2019. Lasting 15-minutes, this is a visually dazzling experience where the narrative is told with staccato-like cutting to give a collage of Shiori’s experiences as she deals with bullying, betrayal and self-doubt amid a burst of hope for love. This editing style allows the slightly longer dramatic scenes to mix with intriguing glimpses of portentous and poetic imagery such as cascades of petals and swirls of paint. It flows at a breathless pace, allowing the story to elide over any audience member’s reservations concerning the cut-up nature of the story, where links between characters can be tenuous. It also allows the atmosphere to lean into fantasy as images are repeated and their importance is revealed in the moving finale.

The flood of images also provides foreshadowing as they are revealed to be connected to what fate has in store for Shiori. Far from being a standard romantic ending, the film transcends traditional notions of love by making this the moment Shiori truly overcomes her inner weaknesses to looks at the world with renewed vigor. It is a moving sequence and the emotional impact comes from Kojima’s performance. She brings a liveliness which catches one’s attention and is able to imbue that with vulnerability to reveal various emotional shades to her character, making it easy to empathize with her travails.

Accompanied by lavish music, the potent visuals and punchy cutting create a sensuous atmosphere. Seeing “love” visualized like this is a lot of fun while Yuasa fuses themes and images together in a way that proves emotionally satisfying.