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Hana and Alice
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At 15, your best friend is everything to you. Until you start growing up... Hana and Alice are inseparable friends until Miyamoto, a cute boy they spot at a train station, comes between them. Tricking Miyamoto into believing that he is suffering from amnesia, Hana claims that she is his girlfriend. A baffled Miyamoto struggles to regain his memories as he is drawn to the prettier Alice. When the bond deepens, the girls' lifelong relationship begins to fray...propelling them apart. From one of Japan's top directors, this tender coming-of-age story beautifully captures the passion and heartache of adolescence.
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I would have given this release a 5/5 star count, if I hadn't had the pleasure of viewing this with subtitles that were better suited, in my opinion. I could point out a scene where it took me off the film, when Miyamoto said something that was translated as a "doppelganger" - now, it might be nitpicking, but I don't think normal 15-year-old teens speak with such words...
Now, onto the stuff on the DVD. Though the TV Spots on a DVD are always filler content... the best part of the extras in here was the Behind-the-Scenes Featurette, which gives you a +1hr. look into what went into the making of "Hana and Alice". It was not only interesting because you get to hear from Shunji Iwai where the idea of the film came from, and how it developed. We also get to see how some of the scenes were shot, and small tidbits of Anne Suzuki, Yu Aoi and Tomohiro Kaku on their characters... and there's also cute funny moments too.
Shunji Iwai 2004
It's a tale as old as the hills, or at least as text messaging. Hana and Alice are BFF, doing all the goofy, giddy things together that school age girls do. Then one day on a train Hana spots a tall young man and falls for him. They speculate whether the shorter, geeky guy with his nose in a book is his brother or friend or ..., but the opportunity passes and Hana worships from afar. Time passes, maybe it's a new school year, and the tall one vanishes leaving the bookworm, Masashi. For reasons that weren't clear to me, Hana transfers her affections to him, and when he clumsily knocks himself out (or just down) she revives him and pretends that she is his girlfriend; he must have amnesia, which he accepts and tries to regain his lost memories.
Hana eventually weaves Alice into her tall tales, which develops into a classic triangle with the added delicious twist of the constantly invented past history. This thread of the film is pursued with low key humor and, when it spirals out of control, genuine pathos.
But there is much else in the film, the stories of the everyday lives of Hana and Alice. Hana joins a comedy club and prepares for a school festival, Alice continues ballet lessons. Alice meets with her divorced father for lunch. She is 'discovered' as an actress/model by an agent.
I won't say much more, except that it all ties together in the ending, which is both up- and down-beat. It's a bittersweet and gentle film, with a bizarre premise grounded by the day to day detail of the girls' lives. A bit long, and maybe a bit confusing on first (only) viewing, I'll nonetheless give this one 5 *'s.
Like many, I became acquainted with Shunji Iwai through his apocalyptic magnum opus, All About Lily Chou-Chou (2001), arguably the greatest Japanese film of the new millennium. Lily's a big, important film, and a tough act to follow. The first time I watched Hana & Alice (2004), Iwai's followup, I was baffled and disappointed. Was this really the same writer and director? It seemed too simple, contrived, lacking at almost every turn in the fractal complexity of Lily. I thought that Iwai had run out of things to say.
But now, watching Hana & Alice again the better part of a decade later, I see that while Lily was Iwai's masterpiece, his grand and terrible Songs of Experience, Hana & Alice, while quieter, humbler, and in every way less "writ large", is nearly as rewarding. It is a companion piece of sorts to Lily -- Iwai's Songs of Innocence, so to speak -- and viewing it through this lens is what finally let me fully appreciate the film.
The film has three narratives: Hana's story, Alice's story, and stories of the two of them together. Hana's story and the stories of the two characters are, without question, pure Songs of Innocence. These sections consist of friends hanging out, chatting and goofing around, ballet lessons, cherry blossom trees, a museum, a visit to the zoo, theatre rehearsals... In short, innocent scenes, imagery and characters, as well as innocent plot devices (especially the main one, which I won't spoil here) and even an innocent soundtrack (Hana's theme, composed by Iwai himself). Iwai even explores the storytelling vocabulary of innocent stories: when characters feel bad, it rains; the male protagonist emits cartoon-like exclamations of surprise; the most at stake is whether the main characters will, in fact, become boyfriend and girlfriend.
But just as Blake's Songs of Innocence hinted at the darker aspects of adulthood, as so does Alice's story here. Alice's experiences -- her relationship with her mother, interacting with her wise but distant father, her introduction to the fickle and demeaning world of small time acting and modeling -- portray the first cracks of innocence, the messy, complicated world of adults.
Iwai is a heavy experimentalist in film, but here, he reigns in his more extreme creative tendencies in his best attempt to tell a straightforward, perhaps mainstream story. Characters are still filmed upside-down, through windowpanes, and talking into mirrors, but these gentle bits of experimentalism are woven subtly into the fabric of the film.
The final scene of Hana & Alice is a minor film classic, and the movie as a whole stands as a quiet but rewarding work from one of Japan's greatest filmmakers.
Funny, clever, must be patient to fallow movie, laugh out loud
Funny, clever, must be patient to fallow movie, laugh out loud