'Pink and Gray': Tokyo Review

Courtesy Kadokawa Corporation

A handsome identity drama about fame and obsession with a clever twist.

Isao Yukisada and emerging star Yuto Nakajima bring J-pop-idol-turned-author Shigeaki Kato’s bestselling novel to the screen.

Cleaving closely to the adage of “write what you know,” J-pop boy band NEWS’ Shigeaki Kato struck out as an author with 2012’s Pink and Gray, about the pitfalls of pop culture fame and the stress it places on personal relationships. The story of the divergent lives and careers of two childhood friends, which already received a manga treatment, takes a few departures from the source material, however co-writer and director Isao Yukisada manages to create a turbulent and occasionally astute youth drama that is also well within the director’s emotional wheelhouse. Art house favorite Yukisada’s name above the title will ensure Pink and Gray a place on the festival circuit globally and very likely niche release regionally, though overseas audiences will be limited to those in select urban centers.

Alone in his swish high-rise apartment, movie star Rengo (Yuto Nakajima) meticulously prepares his suicide; he’s dressed like a star, his hair is perfect. After he’s died, his old friend Daiki (Masaki Suda) bursts into the flat, and after the requisite howls of agony notices a series of suicide notes impeccably placed on the coffee table. He’s supposed to choose one and act according to the instructions inside. After briefly seeing their mutual friend Sally (Kaho) outside the building through the swarming press flashes, we are taken back 14 years to the trio’s formative high school years in Saitama.

As kids in public housing, Rengo, Daiki and Sally become an inseparable trio, despite an emerging love triangle (of course). But the friendship truly starts to fray around the edges when a casting agent, Koizumi, taps the boys for stardom — but only Rengo turns out to be up to the task. As his star ascends to idol status, Daiki is left behind to become a bitter bit player, envious of Rengo’s stature and resentful of any help that’s offered. But when Rengo’s suicide becomes Daiki’s ticket to superstardom, the question emerges as to whether the misery that comes with it was part of the a larger plan to teach Daiki a lesson.

Initially appearing to be a Citizen Kane or Velvet Goldmine-type search for the truth of who a mysteriously deceased celebrity was, Pink and Gray eventually settles into life as a fairly standard drama about obsession, jealousy, identity, and the price of fame. Yukisada (Go, Crying Out Love in the Center of the World) has waded into these water before, most recently with Five Minutes to Tomorrow, which also married a standard format (romance) to elements involving muddled identities, reflecting on the past in order to suss out greater truths and finding closure.

In Pink and Gray he muddies the waters more than usual with a shift in perspective within the film that’s something of a surprise. Along with an abrupt switch to black and white about halfway through, everything we’ve seen to that point is thrown into question when the “real” Rengo shows up (Yuya Yagira, who made a splash a decade ago in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Nobody Knows) and Daiki is revealed not to be who he appears to — though he does bear some resemblance to the true Daiki. It’s a reasonably bold creative choice that Yukisada juggles with confidence, and one that props up the film’s central themes, however overtly that may be.

The director gets strong support from editor Tsuyoshi Imai, who somehow manages to keep the narrative clicking along while never letting it fall into convoluted territory, particularly when other threads — Rengo’s sister Yu’s own suicide, the non-starter love triangle — only lightly touch on the main story. His greatest advantage, however, is the young cast that pulls together the film’s scattered elements and totally sells the story and characters. Nakajima bears the primary responsibility for creating two believable young men, connected to but distinct from each other, and does so quite capably. His Rengo is the picture of aloof pretty boy idol material who’s secretly disillusioned by the whole ordeal. Suda’s fleeting moments of histrionics do little to detract from a strong performance overall, regardless of the role’s showier nature. Not surprisingly, Sally, as played by Kaho and also Yukino Kishii, is largely decorative, and there only to serve as a sounding board (or verbal/emotional punching bag) for Rengo and Daiki. Technical specs are as polished as expected, though composer Yoshihiro Hanno’s score tips into treacly a little to often.

Production company: Kadokawa Corporation

Cast: Yuto Nakajima, Masaki Suda, Yuya Yagira, Kaho, Yukino Kishii, Yoshiko Miyazaki

Director: Isao Yukisada

Screenwriter: Ryuta Horai, Isao Yukisada, based on the novel by Shigeaki Kato

Executive producer: Shinichiro Inoue, Shuichi Nagasawa

Director of photography: Takahiro Imai

Production designer: Naoki Soma 

Costume designer: Sayaka Takahashi

Editor: Tsuyoshi Imai 

Music: Yoshihiro Hanno 

World sales: Kadokawa Corporation


No rating, 118 minutes