Can colours describe fictional characters?
Originally published on October 24, 2016.
Today I watched one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a long time. The Japanese Film Festival is in my city at present, and the movie in question was “What a Wonderful Family” (https://japanesefilmfestival.net/film/what-a-wonderful-family/).
Much of the movie’s humour came from the roles in a family setting. Beyond the comedy, though…some of the characters were so sharply drawn you could cut your hand on them. And it was this aspect of the movie that stuck with me afterwards. It got me to thinking…how could I describe them as “types” that would make sense beyond this particular movie? The idea came to me…as being different colours.
Human beings are complex creatures, so this is just an exercise in whimsy. The colours I’ve chosen for the characters are impressions based upon what I remember seeing from the movie. Given that various characters get a different amount of screen time, some of my impressions are more complete.
Characters and story
The characters, their names, and the actors who play them, are below:
- Grandfather: Shūzō Hirata (Yoji Yamada)
- Grandmother: Tomiko Hirata (Kazuko Yoshiyuki)
- Older Brother: Konosuke Hirata (Masahiko Nishimura)
- Daughter-in-Law: Fumie Hirata (Yui Natsukawa)
- Sister: Shigeko Kanai (Tomoko Nakajima)
- Son-in-Law: Taizo Kanai (Shozo Hayashiya)
- Youngest Brother: Shota Hirata (Satoshi Tsumabuki)
- Fiancée: Noriko Mamiya (Yu Aoi)
Three generations are living under one roof, which is unusual in modern Japan. The two main characters in focus are the grandparents: Shuzo, the recently retired grandfather, who is becoming a real curmudgeon, and Tomiko, the grandmother, who now takes creative writing classes at the local community centre.
Shuzo, among saying many stupid things, forgets Tomiko’s birthday again, and jokes about buying her a present (not something he’s done for years). Instead she hands him a divorce application, and the script rolls on from there. I’m not going to give any more away about the plot.
Tomiko is initially what most of us might expect from a Japanese grandmother. She is quiet, solicitous of her husband’s needs, and mostly speaks indirectly. So when she drops her bombshell, and backs it up with some complaints, it really makes an impact. For her, I thought of lavender; a calming, gentle, nostalgic and reliable colour. This is true of Tomiko even after she makes her request…she does not seek to make waves, simply to make her views firmly known.
Shuzo does not like change, which is why Tomiko’s request astounds him so deeply, and also why he is at a loss about what to do about it. He’s so used to getting his own way that he has forgotten that the world does not revolve around him. I think Shuzo is a sickly, polluted olive green; a colour that on its own creates feelings of sadness and disgust.
The sandwich couple
Fumie works very hard to look after both her own family and her in-laws, including the grumpy old man. She’s no pushover, though, and quite able to voice her opinions. However, perhaps because she understands how it feels to join this family, she shines in making the newest member of the family, Noriko, feel welcome. For Fumie, I chose royal blue. The colour reflects duty and respect, yet it has a cheerful side to it as well.
Konosuke is the older brother of the middle generation, and Fumie’s husband. In many ways, he is a chip off the old block. To be fair, he does try to spend time with his sons, but is otherwise pretty unobservant, unreflective, and direct. I have considered him to be orange; a lovely colour in the right amount, but irritating and unsubtle if overdone.
The betrothed couple
Noriko herself is an appealing character. She does not flinch at the argy-bargy going on when she arrives, and shows courage, skill and care in a situation when everyone else panics. She is gentle, forgiving, and shows courage in speaking up to the old man when she thinks he needs to hear what she has to say. I think of her as turquoise; generally relaxed, gentle, soothing, and clear – but as hard as rock when it’s necessary.
Her betrothed is Shota, the family peacemaker. The most intelligent and modern of the Hirata men, he feels genuinely saddened by his grandmother’s decision. Having greater emotional intelligence than his siblings, however, he both suggests his grandmother has her say, and understands her point of view. However, he also tries in vain to talk sense to his grandfather. In terms of colour, Shota is forest green. He’s calm, fresh, holistic, and steadfast.
The bickering couple
Shigeko is highly strung, and no one has any doubt who wears the pants in her marriage. Indeed, she is not shy of expressing her opinions on pretty much anything. She has a certain view of how the world should work, and is easily annoyed when it doesn’t match her expectations. I think that Shigeko is maroon; on first impressions, it suggests class and refinement, but can also express arrogance, sarcasm, and a born-to-rule attitude.
Taizo (son-in-law) is kind, eager to please, misunderstood, and lacks self-control. He doesn’t seem to have adapted very well to being part of the family, and often goes one step too far to either ingratiate himself. Alternatively, he asserts himself at precisely the wrong time, which earns him rebukes from Shigeko. As a colour, I feel he is magenta; friendly and positive, but stands out a mile and is incapable of subtlety.
At the end of the rainbow
The only other thing left to say is that there are two young boys in the movie, but they are not really characters per se; rather, they are simply there to round out the story.
Anyhow, what do you think about the colour concept? I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts about this.