Sei HiraizumiTomohiro KakuYu AoiTae Kimura
Hana & Alice
Medium: film
Year: 2004
Writer/director: Shunji Iwai
Keywords: Hana & Alice
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Anne Suzuki, Yu Aoi, Tomohiro Kaku, Shoko Aida, Hiroshi Abe, Sei Hiraizumi, Tae Kimura, Takao Ohsawa, Ryoko Hirosue, Eri Fuse, Ayumi Ito, Kazusa Matsuda, Yoshiyuki Morishita, Makoto Sakamoto, Hiroko Sakurakawa
Format: 135 minutes
Website category: Japanese
Review date: 6 April 2018
For something so lightweight, it's really long. It probably could have been shorter. However it's also funny and charming, with really likeable leads who carry what could have been quite a difficult story to watch.
Hana (Anne Suzuki) and Alice (Yu Aoi) are fifteen-year-old schoolgirls and a delight to watch. They're odd. They make you laugh. You're always happy to watch them doing random stuff in random scenes, because they've got great chemistry and they'll find offbeat little ways to play their scenes. I think this was the first time I'd seen Suzuki in anything, but Aoi I've seen in quite a few films and this isn't the first time she's impressed me. This film won her the Japanese Professional Movie Award for Best Actress, for what it's worth, and she absolutely deserves it. It's a light role in a light film, but she's still great in it. She always feels fresh and original. She cracked me up in that scene where she was pretending to be Tomohiro Kaku's old girlfriend when she didn't even know his name, for instance. Alternatively, look at her goofy little jig as she says "just kidding" on the beach. She's good enough to make me want to hunt down the rest of her filmography.
For what it's worth, this particular film started life as a series of Shunji Iwai short films starring Aoi and Suzuki to celebrate Kit Kat's 30th anniversary in Japan. Iwai then put them in this 135-minute feature film... and even after that didn't forget about them, eleven years later making a rotoscoped anime prequel starring Aoi and Suzuki as younger versions of the same characters. I'm looking forward to it. For what it's worth, Shunji Iwai is also a novelist and he usually writes his own screenplays. This film was his first comedy.
Anyway, let's talk about the plot. Hana and Alice start by going off somewhere random and pointless on a train and being stalkers. They have silly conversations. I think it's all on the spur of the moment for them and it's funny. Some time later, though, Hana decides to tell a boy who's just walked into a garage door that she's his girlfriend. He doesn't believe her, but she insists. She tells him that he's got amnesia. They go to hospital to get him a brain scan.
This kicks off a low-key, odd and charming film. Hana is an appalling person... no, I'm wrong. That's not true. What she's telling her crush (Tomohiro Kaku) is appalling, but she herself is always likeable and, somehow, you're on her side. Eventually she drags in a reluctant Alice and you're on her side as well. You're on everyone's side, in fact, which is more impressive than it sounds because this story should probably have been unwatchable. Give this material to most actors and you'd probably want everyone dead.
There's a theme of performance, image and deception. You can't say that doesn't fit. Almost everything anyone does is performance-related, from the school's ballet club to its rakugo club and even Alice getting scouted by a talent agency. (She's bizarrely terrible at it, but the truth and self-discovery of the film's finale has everyone discovering what's inside themselves. Alice cross-pollinates herself.) Kaku tells us about his dreams that are unexpectedly perceptive, if a bit surreal. Being chased by a giant slug isn't the most obvious metaphor for anyone's real life. There are comprehension barriers, e.g. other languages (Chinese), and a mental person doing performance art in the rain. (Who do we know who's mental? Oh yes: Alice.) The film's finale involves performances at the school culture festival.
Would I recommend this? Yes, definitely, although I wouldn't object if you chose to watch it in two halves. That's what I did. It's charming enough that I'm sure it would have worked if I'd done it all in one go, but 135 minutes is a long time. The plot's delicate and the ending's slightly nebulous, but what really carries this film is one of the most likeable, watchable pair of leads I can remember in ages.