Naoko Yamada’s ‘The Colors Within’ Shares Character Designs After Annecy Competition Debut: ‘It’s About the Joy of Creating’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Japanese creator Naoko Yamada, whose latest film “The Colors Within” screened in the main competition at this year’s Annecy Animation Festival, continues to challenge herself.

“Animation provides me with hope, yearning and challenges. It allows me to expand my imagination infinitely and, at the same time, it challenges me to see how much imagination I actually have,” she told Variety via an interpreter following the premiere of her latest.

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“I want to see what I can do without limiting myself to any particular subjects.”

It introduces a young Totsuko, a closeted synesthete who can actually see others as colors. She becomes fascinated with honor student Kimi – and her dazzling shade, who has dropped out of school but pretends to attend for her grandmother’s sake.

Kimi also has a hidden talent – she loves to play the electric guitar and dabbles in songwriting. Later, when the two start to become friends, they form a band with Rui, a quiet boy who loves music but whose mother expects him to become a doctor.

'The Colors Within'
‘The Colors Within,’ Kimi

“I chose music because it’s a tool that can connect emotions without using words,” said Yamada, who previously made the shorts “Garden of Remembrance” and “The Heike Story.” A Kyoto Animation alumni, she’s also behind “Liz and the Blue Bird.”

“I think this is a story about the process of shaping something and the joy of creating,” she added.

Written by Reiko Yoshida, “The Colors Within” was produced by Science SARU and Story Inc. As previously reported by Variety, Gkids and European animation distributor Anime Ltd. have acquired global rights for the film.

While a big chunk of the feature, now debuting exclusive images, is set in a Catholic school, with Totsuko often turning to God and one of the nuns to ask for guidance, Yamada wasn’t exactly focusing on the spiritual.

'The Colors Within'
‘The Colors Within,’ Totsuko

“It wasn’t my objective to depict a story about religion. There are many Christian schools in Japan, but the students who attend those schools and practice the religion usually make up less than 10%. I researched and visited many of them for this movie. I wanted to portray a world in which people with different views and ideas can coexist.”

Despite a realistic background – and universal problems and pressures the main trio has to deal with –Totsuko’s talent makes “The Colors Within” a more fantastical proposition.

“By mixing the worlds that Totsuko exists in and the world that she feels, I aimed to connect those watching this movie with the world within the film,” explained the director, who embraced frequent splashes of bright hues.

“As I created this universe of color that Totsuko feels, I was conscious of the particles of light,” she added, emphasizing a desire to create a link between protagonist and audience.

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