Most of our exposure to foreign animated films comes from the land of the rising sun. Studio Ghibli is practically a household name these days with their universal appeal, but on the festival circuit do you get to learn about obscure, small studios who are waiting to get their big break. Surprisingly, there are no Ghibli films at the festival this year, but two out of the three Japanese films submitted to Annecy competed for the Best Feature Film award.
So what makes The Case of Hana & Alice so peculiar? Thanks to Mr. Kur, we get to unravel the film’s unique origins and animation techniques.
“The Case of Hana & Alice” (Hana to Alice, Directed by Satsujin Jiken & Shunji Iwai, Japan)
When I first saw clips from “The Case of Hana & Alice,” I assumed it was a traditional anime. However, I later learned that the entire film is rotoscoped. Though the first 15-20 minutes suffers a bit due to the uncanny valley of the characters, I enjoyed most of the film. The creator, who was present at the screening, previously did only live action films. Though “Hana & Alice” is his first animated effort, it’s a relatively solid debut.
The story centers on a young transfer student named Alice (actually she has a Japanese name, but for some odd reason her friend give her nickname “Alice” early on… I guess to relate more with European audience?). At the new school, Alice encounters many odd things going on in her class. Apparently, her desk used to belong to a boy who, as the urban legend says, was killed by his four wives. She also starts to hear other stories circulating around the school, including demon possessions and odd rituals practiced by her classmates. As the story progresses, Alice meets Hana – a girl who never leaves her house and who was linked to the supposedly murdered boy in the past. The two team up to solve the mystery of what truly happened with the boy and travel to the other part of the city to solve the murder case.
Oh, did I forget to mention that this is a comedy? Yes it is, and all the character based gags and situational comedic moments are the strongest parts of the film! It’s a slice of life story mixed with a buddy-road trip. While the setup takes some time (we don’t meet Hana till about 30-40 minutes in), their roles as amateur detectives is done incredibly well!
What I enjoy most about the film is the slow pacing, which gives the characters a lot of time to interact with each other. At one point we spend a good 20 minutes with Alice following a certain person, which leads from one crazy, awkward (yet somewhat realistic) situation to another. Another sequence just has the two girls in a parking lot at night trying to figure out where they’ll sleep. Though initially appearing trivial, there is something very adventureous about it.
In the end, it’s not a movie about the story or the mystery, it’s about spending time with the characters, realizing that childhood can provide a sense of wonder and adventure. Other than some of the odd animation, “The Case of Hana & Alice” is definitely worth checking out.
Uncanny valley is right…usually I can appreciate the effort of mixing together traditional animation with photorealistic backgrounds, but the movement feels really unnatural. As this film appears to be a slice-of-life type of stories without any over the top elements, it made me all the more conscious of the strange pacing. The style reminded me of this very unusually piece of Japanese software called “3D Custom Girl”, which allows you to create 3D models of girls for dating or erotic simulators. Being aware of those memes and the software’s existence just makes the movie’s visuals look rather cheap and jerky.
Now plot wise, this has the potential to be one of those really charming stories about growing up. High School is a pretty serious time in any Japanese person’s life, as it has intense academic and social bonds to that of the American College Experience. There is the potential for this to be quiet, inspirational film in the veins of Ghibli’s Ocean Waves and/or Only Yesterday. After all, the murder story shown in the trailer is just the kicking off point to start the road trip.
What’s promising about the film is the dedication of the director, Shunji Iwai. He worked on the original, live-action movie from 2004 with the same friendly spirit as Maciek has described. Most of his filmography has detailed him as the writer for most of his projects, so I imagine he is pretty knowledgeable when it comes to depicting relatable characters. Plus, as weird as everything moves, the film is loaded with lovely scenery that captures the look of the not too urbanized, less populated parts of Japan’s prefectures.
This is probably the most underwhelming trailer out of all the ones I have seen from this festival. Mixed with the review/synopsis, I envision the film as a life-affirming tale of growing up and bonding. From my experience with anime, many slice-of-life shows end with a warm, fuzzy ending to give meaning to the mundane, detailing the ending is not what matters, but the journey itself. I would still watch it if it came to Netflix if it came up, but I’m overfamiliar with this kind of premise.