Rainbow Kids (1991)
Nicholas Driscoll
September 10, 2008
Note: review may contain spoilers

If there was ever a Japanese movie tailor-made to introduce old-school J-film and tokusatsu enthusiasts to more modern, less fantastical or historical Japanese filmmaking, Rainbow Kids would be it. The movie is brimming over with long-running actors and staff, most impressively Tanie Kitabayashi, recognizable to many J-film enthusiasts for her role in The Burmese Harp and her voice work in My Neighbor Totoro (1988), but who has been acting in films since 1950 and is still alive as of this writing. Hideyo Amamoto, whose resume reads like a list of some of the most important Japanese classics and kaiju films with diverse titles such as 24 Eyes, Yojimbo (1961), Matango (1963), and of course King Kong Escapes (1967), just to name a few, returns here in a minor part as a butler, along with other monster movie veterans such as Yu Fujiki from Atragon, Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964), Chushingura (1963), and The War of the Gargantuas (1966), and the enduringly popular Kumi Mizuno, most famous for her role as the X-Seijin temptress in Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965), here taking on a minor part as Tanie Kitabayashi's character's daughter. Even the director is noteworthy to those in the know; Kihachi Okamoto directed Japan's Longest Day (1967) and Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo (1970). Perhaps most notable of all, however, is the composer, the legendary Masaru Sato, who has graced numerous big name movies with his musical talents—everything from Yojimbo to Godzilla Raids Again (1955); The Hidden Fortress (1958) to Son of Godzilla (1967); Sanjuro (1962) to H-Man (1958). In short, Rainbow Kids could be viewed as a sort of gateway movie for those interested in branching out into a wider variety of Japanese films—and Rainbow Kids functions as a pleasant introduction, teasing us with many great actors from the past, and introducing a number of new favorites.

The story is that of a comedic caper flick—the Japanese title is Daiyukai, or "big kidnapping," and that is exactly what happens. Three blundering small time criminals, Kenji Tonami (played by Toru Kazama of Masked Rider: the First), Heita Miyake (Hiroshi Nishikawa, Zero Woman 2005), and Masayoshi Akiba (Katsuyasu Uchida), decide to kidnap perhaps the richest woman in all of Japan: the Grand Old Lady, Toshiko Yanagawa (Tanie Kitabayashi). After weeks of bumbling, amazingly they pull off the snatch, not realizing just what they are getting into. You see, Ms. Yanagawa is much more intelligent than her would-be captors, and before long the abduction blossoms far out of their control, with an experienced, passionate inspector (Ken Ogata, Kujakuoh, 1989's Zatoichi) in determined, incensed pursuit, and a thunderstorm of hijinks in the making.

Rainbow Kids' plot is a lot of fun, providing clever writing and a large cast of amusing, broadly sketched characters. The movie clocks in around two hours, and so takes a leisurely pace, building the central conflict slowly and with a nice spicing of tomfoolery and an overall feel-good, wholesome tone to appeal to a wide cross section of viewers. However, arguably the story stretches too long, and because the kidnapping is never taken very seriously (the perps are idiots, and the Grand Old Lady is never in danger), the story is not very engaging as real tension is out of the question. Luckily, for the most part, where the plot staggers, the characters stride.

First and foremost in Tanie Kitabayashi's Grand Old Lady, who easily provides the anchor to the movie. Kitabayashi, despite being about 80 years old at the time, remains energetic, executing her performance with a great degree of charm and spunk. Her character is probably the most fleshed-out, the movie exploring her motives and amply displaying her powerful personality, which Kitabayashi pulls off perfectly. The kidnappers are somewhat more mixed in their portrayals, but effective overall. Calling themselves the "rainbow kids," Kenji is the mastermind of the trio, adopting the codename "Thunder" ("Lightning," according to many online sources) and planning out the initial crime. Actor Toru Kazama captures Kenji's scheming serviceably. Hiroshi Nishikawa is largely undistinguished as the subdued Heita "Rain" Miyake, while Katsuyasu Uchida provides an earnest portrayal of Masayoshi "Wind" Akiba. More memorable than the eponymous trio are some of the supporting characters. Increasingly I'm becoming a fan of Kirin Kiki, who provided a gleefully delightful performance in Kamikaze Girls (2004) and has an equally winning turn here as Yanagawa's quirky ex-maid. Also memorable is Kyusaku Shimada as a large-chinned police officer nicknamed Tokyo. Ken Ogata is also quite good as the cantankerous inspector. Unfortunately, Hideyo Amamoto doesn't have a lot to do, but he skillfully essays the role of the anxious-to-please butler when he is on the screen. Kumi Mizuno barely makes an impression as Yanagawa's oldest daughter, but for Godzilla fans, it's a kick just to recognize her.

The soundtrack has a few memorable songs, although those that made the most impression on me were the pop tunes, presumably provided by the Psycho Hysterics, as they are listed in the credits. Early on there is a prominent and recurring hip-hop theme, underscoring the kidnappers' clumsy preparations, which is either retro-winsome in this day and age or a grating example of outdated styles—personally, I enjoyed it. Masaru Sato's original themes are much more understated; after my initial viewing, I'd completely forgotten they were in the movie because they are employed so infrequently. However, he develops several distinctive cues, including a soft, strings-based theme for the Grand Old Lady that help set the mood without ever overwhelming the on-screen action, subtly guiding emotions rather than whomping viewers over the head with mawkish themes.

Like the other Geneon live-action titles I have viewed, Rainbow Kids is subtitled only, with no dub included. The subs provided here are somewhat poor, with noticeable errors and awkward phrasings typical of high-level non-native English speakers, but these mistakes are only slightly distracting.

One of my aims in writing for Toho Kingdom is to highlight overlooked films like Rainbow Kids, especially if the film is in an underrepresented genre. The tendency in America remains to focus mainly on Japan's sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and chanbara genres, which all include many worthy films which I enjoy, but which don't take into account the vast library of more conventional dramas, action films, romances, and comedies that nonetheless are high quality and deserve equal attention. Rainbow Kids, while not a particularly exceptional film with its leisurely pacing and somewhat shallow plot, nevertheless is highly entertaining with a number of genuine laughs, numerous recognizable faces, and a pleasant, simple, inoffensive story that should appeal to many open-minded individuals if they would only give it a chance. The fact that the movie can be purchased along with three other good-to-great comedies for a reasonable price (My Secret Cache, All About Our House, and The Family Game, which I have already reviewed) gives American viewers a great opportunity to experience some part of the vast spectrum of quality foreign titles from across the ocean, with little excuse not to do so. Foreign movies like these help expand our perspectives while entertaining us at the same time. When it comes to entertainment, there is rarely higher praise, regardless of the star rating.