Animation is a thriving and well respected sub-industry in Japanese cinema. The relationship between anime and Japanese people is often somewhat alien to the rest of the world, and although the works of Miyazaki et al have garnered critical acclaim globally, audiences (save for Nihonophiles) generally remain somewhat tentative when it comes to the genre.
For those not in the know (including this critic), Hana and Alice was a mildly successful Japanese high school drama way back in 2004. For his new film, director Shunji Iwai decided to create a prequel to the tale of teenage angst, telling the tale of how our original heroes first met. But there’s a twist; this time it’s animated.
After the divorce of her parents, Tetsuko Arisa finds herself moved to the boonies and a strange and unwelcoming new high school. Immediately shunned by her classmates for sitting in an allegedly cursed desk and thus disturbing the spirit of a dead alumnus, Alice decides to get to the bottom of the bizarre goings on.
When Alice hears tale of former student Judas’ disappearance, a domino trail of supernatural occurrences, from adolescent possession to boys being dragged to hell, causes her to form an unlikely relationship with Hana, who has been a recluse since Judas’ disappearance.
The Case of Hana and Alice is a charming insight into the everyday of Japan. Despite the supernatural undertones, there are no bells and whistles in this story; the mundanity of life in Japan is illustrated so very acutely. In this sense, the film may seem somewhat dreary to those not accustomed with the realities of the culture; those expecting the typical stereotypes would do well to watch the film to see that life in Japan is by no means the Technicolor explosion of weirdness that we have always believed. The relationships between the characters are a delight, the highlight being the old man that Alice befriends as the two of them enlighten each other in their different worlds.
The somewhat jarring aspect of the film is, oddly enough, its selling point. The animation, utilizing rotoscoping (in which the film is shot in its entirety and then animated over), is at times rather off-putting, and one does have to wonder why Iwai chose this approach, rather than a traditional live-action drama, which would by no means have lost any of the final narrative result.
That said, The Case of Hana and Alice is a touching and entrancing snapshot of highschool life; the friendships, the disappointment and the tragic importance of fitting in. A great addition to this year’s Asia House Film Festival.
Dir: Shunji Iwai
Scr: Shunji Iwai
Starring: Yu Aoi, Anne Suzuki, Shoko Aida, Sei Hiraizumi
DOP: Chigi Kanbe
Music: Shunji Iwai
Run Time: 100mins
Asia House Film Festival takes place from 22 February to 5 March at London venues http://asiahouse.org/