Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hana and Alice (Japan 2004)

Based on a series of short films made to celebrate Kit-Kat's 30th anniversary in Japan, the story of Hana and Alice (花とアリス) was expanded into a feature-length release. It's an interesting portrayal of friendship and how first loves can change that dynamic, but with a run-time of 135 minutes, it's entertainment value is dragged down considerably.

Best friends Hana (Anne Suzuki) and Alice (Yu Aoi) have a friendship that can only be developed over years, and it appears that nothing could come between the two. On one of their routine train rides to school, the girls begin to take notice of a Masashi (Tomohiro Kaku), a boy that rides the same train as them. Alice tries to get Hana interested in him, but she doesn't seem to really care. However, it appears she's just playing coy and secretly pines for him, to the point of stalking him with her camera. Heck, she even goes so far as to join the same comedy club as him at school. After school one day, Hana follows Masashi home, and he is so engaged in his book that he smacks his head against a metal gate which knocks him unconscious. Hana, seeing an opportunity, convinces the confused boy that he has confessed his love for her and just can't remember. Hana's lie eventually turns into a relationship with Masashi, but he can't help but feel completely lost as to why he's with her. Meanwhile, Alice is also caught up in Hana's lie, as she plays Masashi's ex-girlfriend and has to act as if she used to go out with him. See, Masashi found the photos that Hana took of him and the only way he'd believe that Hana wasn't crazy was to make it appear as if Alice took the photos. The two girls are basically creating the boy's memories for him. Aren't lies wonderful!? When Alice isn't trying to convince Masashi that they used to be an item, she's discovered by a talent agency and begins going on various modeling and acting auditions. However, she has no real talent, other than ballet, so she comes up empty handed at each opportunity. The more time Alice begins to spend with Masashi, the more the two of them begin to develop real feelings for one another. This, as you can imagine, creates a rift between Hana and Alice and poor Masashi is stuck in the middle. Will the girls finally tell Masashi the truth? And will Masashi want anything to do with either of them if he does find out the truth?

Ah young love. Is there anything cuter than that? Well I'm sure there is, but it's unquestionably a major turning point in any young persons life and the attempt at portraying it in Hana and Alice is a noble one. I have to admit that I haven't seen the three shorts films that the movie is comprised of individually, but I still can't help but think that those shorts films would have sufficed in getting the story across just fine. No buts about it, Hana and Alice is a long movie folks. It doesn't take long to get the ball rolling with Hana convincing Masashi that they're a couple, but after that, it's a lot of stuff that doesn't have much at all to do with that major plot point. The movie doesn't take itself too seriously, and that's possibly where I had my biggest problem with it. I could never understand why Masashi didn't get more upset over the fact that these two girls were so blatantly deceiving him and seemed to think nothing of it. Most of the film just acts as if this sort of behavior is normal, and that seemed incredibly bizarre to me. On a brighter note, the cinematography throughout the film is wonderful, with some scenes having been shot beautifully. There is a quirky sense of the humor to the film, that while not flat-out hilarious, will make you smile on more than one occasion. The performances, most notably from Anne Suzuki and Yu Aoi, are impressive, with Yu Aoi going on to win a Best Actress award in 2005 at the Japanese Professional Movie Awards. These girls just seem like complete naturals in front of the camera, which in turn, seems like an ironic joke in regards to Alice as she performs so terribly at auditions within the movie.

In the end, Hana and Alice is a cute look into the friendship of two teenage girls and how their friendship is compromised because of a boy. This is certainly a reality for many young people out there, but the way it's played out here doesn't necessarily feel realistic. Hana and Alice is at times heart-warming and engaging, but with little substance to stretch over such a long running-time, even the most patient of viewers will find this innocent look at love a trying experience. (Lee)

Grade: B


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