Shunji Iwai is known for his lengthy coming-of-age films. Most are constructed around relatively simple ideas, but utilize an elaborate route to tell the story. This is a hit-or-miss technique, but usually the pay-off is a gentle portrayal of life, with beauty hidden between its pocks. Hana and Alice is about a pair of friends who are learning what life has in store for them – friendships, family relationships, boys, future careers – the usual things 15-year old deal with. Its beauty is in its lyricism. It’s more of a visual poem than an ordinary story with a beginning, middle and end. The airy script may be better received if the viewer knows ahead of time, that the film was originally a series of shorts. They were part of a 30th anniversary celebration for Kit-Kat in Japan. Without this knowledge, as a standalone feature film it feels a little long and disjointed. Are we dealing with a story about a love triangle, or Alice’s career, or the perils of white lies? Yes, all of the above, but a central theme is missing, or is at best, vague. We’re taken too far into each character’s world to really remember their bond when Iwai puts the kids back together for a few token scenes.
Considering this is one of Iwai’s older works, it is still endearing, but may appeal more to diehard fans than a general audience. The acting is strong, as with most of the cast the director handpicks for his body of work. This includes a young Yu Aoi (All About Lily Chou-Chou, the Rurouni Kenshin franchise, Tokyo Family). It is also interesting to note, this is the first musical soundtrack Iwai scored himself.
Hana and Alice screens at TIFF (Tokyo International Film Festival) – TOHO Cinemas, Roppongi Hills, 6:50 pm, October 30th, 2017.