Hana & Alice
Director: Shunji Iwai
Starring: Anne Suzuki, Yu Aoi, Tomohiro Kaku, Tae Kimura, Shoko Aida
Lifelong friends, Hana (Anne Suzuki) and Alice (Yu Aoi) are looking forward to starting high school life together. When Hana witnesses her crush, who is very absent minded, walk headfirst into a door, she comes to his aid. Sensing an opportunity to get close to him, she tells the head traumatized Masashi that she is his girlfriend and that his injury has given him amnesia. Unsure at first, Masashi is convinced of the ruse thanks to help from Alice and his relationship with the two girls takes odd twists in his journey to recall memories that never existed. Along the way, the friendship between the two girls is tested by personal matters and a growing affection for Masashi by Alice.
Directed by Shunji Iwai, Hana and Alice is a prime example of Japanese new wave from a master at the top of his game. Told in a ‘slice of life’ style, Iwai creates unforgettable characters and memorable scenes, in the process cementing his status as my favorite director. A simplicity to his storytelling allows fully dimension characters to inhabit his films and the audience has ample opportunity to peel back layers revealing aspects and motivations for each individual. There’s an almost effortlessness in his direction that is flowing yet measured in execution.
Suzuki and Aoi have tremendous chemistry together and their friendship seems very real. Suzuki’s somewhat selfish Hana is at odds with her growing love with Masashi and her purity in her affection despite her ruse. Kaku’s Masashi is very good; he’s timid and very confused and though I don’t necessarily get the attention he receives from the girls, he’s a decent enough guy who keeps it coy until a very good scene at the end. Yu steals the film with an absolutely winning performance as Alice. She’s adorably quirky and her disposition makes it easy to see why she’s become one of Japan’s top young actresses. A natural on screen, her Alice is stressed, worried, and absolutely radiant when she’s in her own world. An audition scene towards the end, viewers will know exactly what scene to which I am referring, is so stunningly beautiful, it is one of my favorite scenes in any film of the last 25 years. A strong supporting cast including Hiroshi Abe, Takao Osawa, Ryoko Hirosue, Ayumi Ito, Sei Hiraizumi, and Shoko Aida all have small scenes, but add to the many great moments in the film.
Shot in HD, the film looks a bit like documentary style with its many instances of natural light use and handheld cameras. Never going to far for realism, the world of the film is almost whimsical in its depiction and offers a very nice and sweet experience that is uniquely Japanese and uniquely Iwai. Composing the score himself, Iwai has a terrific sense of musical timing. His selections and compositions are perfectly suited to the picture and result in a soundtrack that has seen repeated play many times since my first viewing.
A hugely entertaining and sweet comedy, Hana and Alice is a picture that I’ve revisited many times since its release in 2005. With terrific leads, great performances, and memorable scenes, this is one of those films that shows exactly why I watch Japanese cinema. Worth more than a look, it deserves repeated watches.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Love Letter, Swallowtail Butterfly, and All About Lily Chou Chou