The Case Of Hana & Alice (Cert 12)
1 Disc (Distributor: All The Anime) Running time: 99 minutes approx.
Unless anyone with an encyclopaedic knowledge of anime can suggest otherwise, I believe a precedent may have been set with this film by being an animated prequel to a live action Japanese film, 2004’s Hana & Alice. Director Shunji Iwai not only returns to helm this animated version but also reunites with the leading actresses from that film, Yu Aoi and Anna Suzuki to reprise their roles as the titular characters.
This film therefore reveals the unique circumstances under which the two friends met. Following the divorce of her parents, Tetsuko Arisugawa (Aoi) and her mother move to a new town for a new start. On her first day at school, Tetsuko – soon nicknamed “Alice” – is upset by the odd behaviour towards her from her classmates which is revealed to be based around the urban legend of a schoolboy who previously had her seat.
According to the self-confessed class priestess, a boy named Yuda (aka Judas) had four wives and one of them poisoned him, his desk now protected by a magic seal to suppress his evil spirit. Naturally, Alice thinks this is a load of old hokum and learns that the truth behind this legend may lay with her reclusive next-door neighbour Hana Arai (Suzuki).
Because this is an origin tale of sorts one doesn’t need to have seen the live action sequel to enjoy or follow this film although I am sure interest will be heightened to see how they lives pan out next following this fascinating introduction. Despite the suggested supernatural plot line, this is straight up slice-of life comedy drama, with the distorted exaggerations of the tale of Yuda indulging the esoteric whim of Japanese imagination.
Don’t let that fool you into thinking this is a run-of-the-mill yarn as Shunji Iwai infuses his script with a quirky charm that gradually develops into a subtly poignant exploration of regret and emotional closure in what is essentially a tale of two halves, buttressed by the likeability of the two leads, especially Alice who carries the whole film.
At first Alice appears to be like any other feisty 14 year-old schoolgirl in anime but her sensitivity shows when she is treated like a pariah due to the seat she was allocated in class. Having to decipher the cryptic ramblings of the other kids about Judas and the cursed boundaries she unwittingly broke, it is no wonder Alice hates her new school.
However, she perseveres after literally beating the story out of one her male classmates following a bizarre group exorcism of the desk which she later learns was a load of cobblers, created by a bullied girl to stop the bullying and make friends, who now follow her every command. But the story still doesn’t ring true even though Yuda did exist but whether he was actually dead or not remains a mystery.
Alice is mortified to learn that she now lives in Yuda’s old house and has his old bedroom so she actively seeks out shut-in Hana for answers. The first meeting is, true to form for anime, less than auspicious, setting the tone for the equally unorthodox continuation, which involves Hana sending Alice out on a mission to meet Yuda’s father by pretending to be Yuda.
If this sounds a bit bizarre, it actually makes more sense in context but what we are not prepared for is the litany of disasters that befall the pair as a result of a simple error made under pressure by Alice. What begins as two slightly kooky girls (typically acting beyond their youthful years) doing slightly kooky things evolves into a touching personal quest for redemption and resolution.
With the first half of the story being set at the school and the setting up of the ludicrous sounding saga of Yuda and his four wives (bear with it, there is a proper explanation), there is an air of convention about it, what with schools being a favoured setting for anime, slice of life or otherwise.
Come the arrival of Hana and we witness a veritable domino effect of mishaps and miscommunication that range from the unfortunate to the toe-curlingly embarrassing, leaving behind a trail of mayhem behind them. Iwai’s script however is canny enough to keep things well within reason to prevent them from appearing too farfetched – outside of the small matter that these are two 14 year-old girls running riot across the city.
There is an argument that denouement is slightly bathetic but in many ways, the terse punctuation point it delivers is in keeping with the offbeat tone of the story, whilst bucking the trend of protracted and overly emotional climaxes. Sometimes a short sharp shock is all one needs to wake them up and put their issues into perspective, and if you can appreciate the sardonic exercise in economy there is a wry giggle to be had here.
What may also prove distracting is the rotoscoping animation technique used here, similar to the series Flowers Of Evil which has been a polarising method in the eyes of anime fans. In one respect this ensures the movements of the characters look natural and realistic which is a positive, especially in the ballet scenes (Alice is a keen dancer) and the many running scenes.
The downside however is that the character designs are very loose and have a tendency to wander off model; facial expressions are rather limited due to the basic representation of the faces but this is compensated by the infectious personalities of the girls. The overall artwork however is gorgeous, the watercolour veneer recalls the luscious detail of Makoto Shinkai’s works, exuding the same melancholic warmth.
Unless it was the connection to the live action film, there doesn’t appear to be a valid reason why The Case Of Hana & Alice slipped under the radar prior to this release, when it is a fun, quietly affecting and deliriously charming and uniquely flavoured slice-of-life anime.
Japanese Language 5.1 & 2.0
French Language 5.1 & 2.0
English & French Subtitles
Makoto Shinkai interview (w/English & French Subtitles)
Rating – ****
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