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Hana and Alice
  |     review    |     notes     |     availability     |
Anne Suzuki and Yu Aoi
 
Year: 2004
Director: Shunji Iwai
Writer: Shunji Iwai
  Cast:

Yu Aoi, Anne Suzuki, Tomohiro Kaku, Shoko Aida, Tae Kimura, Hiroshi Abe, Takao Osawa, Ryoko Hirosue

  The Skinny: With a 135-minute running time, Iwai's return to the lighter side of life is unnecessarily long. However, his brand of quirky humor and the charming presence of the two leads make this one worth watching.
Review
by
Kevin Ma:

     Shunji Iwai's Hana and Alice started out as a series of short films in 2003 for the webpage of a certain chocolate company. The three-part series chronicled a love triangle between high school students Hana (Anne Suzuki of Initial D), Alice (Yu Aoi), and Miyamoto (Tomohiro Kaku). Later, Iwai would add over an hour and a half of footage to form the feature film version of Hana and Alice. After the dark high school drama All About Lily Chou-Chou, Iwai decided to return to a more innocent side of high school. This time, the bullying and cultural reflection are gone, replaced by good old-fashioned puppy love and a bit of ballet. For any other filmmaker, a film like this might merely mark a diversion in their filmography, but a new Iwai film is always an event. However, though possessing of the usual Iwai quirky humor and charming detail, Hana and Alice goes to show that perhaps high school in the Iwai universe can be too innocent.
     Hana and Alice (short for her last name Arisugawa) are junior high school classmates and the best of friends. Alice is the free spirit who acts on her impulses, and Hana complements her thanks to her penchant for following others. One morning, Alice leads Hana on a trip to a strange train station, where they begin to spy on a tall foreign man and someone they presume to be his Japanese younger brother. While a random conversation about Hannibal Lecter ends Alice's schoolgirl crush (Iwai's sense of humor works in mysterious ways), Hana encounters the young Japanese man, named Miyamoto, again when she joins the Japanese comedy club in high school. Instantly taking a liking to Miyamoto, she begins to follow him after school when he accidentally bangs his head against a metal gate. Hana immediately seizes the opportunity and tells Miyamoto that he has not only suffered amnesia, but also that he is dating her - a new plot addition that was not in the short films.
     Despite his skepticism, Miyamoto plays along until he discovers the pictures Hana took months earlier during her stalking sessions with Alice. Suddenly, Hana has turned Alice into Miyamoto's ex-girlfriend, whom he has also supposedly forgotten, thanks to his "amnesia." As Miyamoto tries to put together his "lost" past with Alice, Alice realizes that she, too, has started to like him. However, Alice has issues of her own: her divorced mother would rather spend more time dating than parenting; her father treats her well, but rarely sees her; and she gets scouted by a talent agency, even though her acting skill is next to nil.
     While the short films emphasized the love triangle elements, Hana and Alice is ultimately about the creation of a past. As Hana's deception goes further and further, Hana is forced to create more and more details about not one, but two relationships that never existed. She eventually makes up so many lies that she even begins to believe that Miyamoto is really her boyfriend. On the other hand, Hana believes she deserves Miyamoto in the short film simply because she met him first. Even though the short film contains the same scenes featured in the feature film, Hana and Alice the short films and Hana and Alice the feature film are two different creatures altogether.
     However, do these new elements help Hana and Alice? Yes and no. While the new additions thankfully expand on Alice's background, they also add context to the Hana-Miyamoto-Alice relationship, such that it's not simply another high school puppy love romance. The bad news is that even though its the main conflict of the film, the love triangle in Hana and Alice has softened considerably. Since Alice is now a part of Hana's deception, the only real conflicts of the story (Who will get Miyamoto? Will Miyamoto lighten up? Can the girls can any cuter?) possess little to look forward to. Moreover, the film also loses its balance between the two leads by adding only major details to Alice's background. In the end, even though Alice's story is one of the strong points of the film, the character of Hana has been reduced to a young con artist who'll do anything for love.
     Nevertheless, the two leads are absolutely charming. Hana and Alice comes alive whenever the two share the screen thanks to their chemistry. They have such rapport playing best friends that it's hard to imagine they are anything less than that in real life. Of course, the fact that they're playing their own age doesn't hurt either. What's even better is that the two leads are just as good on their own. Anne Suzuki gives an enchanting performance as the head-over-heels in love Hana. Even though her character threatens to become one-note, she still has a few good dramatic moments. However, it's Yu Aoi who has some of the film's best moments, including a memorable dance performance in the end. While Tomohiro Kaku's deadpan Miyamoto takes some time to get used to, he eventually left a favorable impression upon me as well. Then again, his character could've been better written in the first place.
     The crew behind the camera is excellent as well. Every technical detail in Hana and Alice is probably helped by the fact that Iwai not only wrote and directed, but also composed the music and edited the entire film as well. For their final collaboration, cinematographer Noboru Shinoda (who passed away before the film's release) stunningly retains Iwai's signature soft-lighting from film to digital. The result is a teenage fairy tale given a truly magical atmosphere that is rarely seen in Western films.
     At 45 minutes, the short films were also filled with charm and that high school girl cuteness. Iwai has always paid attention to the details, even in a simple conversation scene on a train platform when the girls start practicing random ballet forms mid-conversation. However, at 135 minutes, Hana and Alice is ultimately too many details and too little story. Even when Iwai adds deception and fabricated pasts into the plot, it feels like a graduate philosophy course for high school - the idea is there, but it feels out of place. In the end, Hana and Alice is a beautifully made and enjoyably charming story about the strength of friendship, but not much else. (Kevin Ma 2006)

Notes: • While the special edition DVDs from Hong Kong and Korea feature the original three short films with Chinese and Korean subtitles, respectively, there have yet to be English-subtitled version of the shorts anywhere. However, all the scenes from the short films are included and extended in the feature film.
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Panorama Entertainment
2-DVD Special Edition
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English subtitles
Various Extras
 

   
 
 
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