Every week for Drama and Movie Thursday, we choose a film or drama at random to watch and review. The film may be new or old, but it’s always fun to watch something different. This week, the random choice was 2004’s Hana & Alice, a Japanese comedy-drama film with an interesting premise that seemed like it would be fun to watch. One thing learned from Hana & Alice is that just because it seems interesting, it doesn’t mean it will translate well to film.
Hana & Alice centers on the titled main characters played by Anne Suzuki and Yu Aoi, respectively. Prior to their high school years, Hana finds herself lovesick over a stranger on train: Misashi (Tomohiro Kaku). Fast-forward a little bit, and both she and Alice pass their high school entrance exams and end up at his high school. Hana joins his drama club and follows him one day, just so she witnesses Misashi walk into a door and collapse. She convinces him that he has amnesia and that she is his girlfriend. As expected, one lie leads to another and Alice ends up involved as the “ex-girlfriend.” Eventually, a triangle forms that tests the friendship.
Aoi and Suzuki are the bright spots in Hana & Alice because they feed off each other well. Suzuki and Aoi portray a realistic friendship and make their characters feel as if they have been friends since childhood. Both girls are excellent in portraying joy, sadness, and heartache as they navigate through their personal lives and love-triangle.
Suzuki is perfect as the somewhat selfish but, at times, timid Hana. Suzuki provides some hesitancy in the role that makes Hana feel human and more than a screen character. The key is to watch Suzuki’s facial expressions throughout the movie as the subtle nuances such as the tilt of the head, a raise of an eyebrow, or certain ways she blinks really show the inner workings of Hana and any guilt she may feel about the scam she’s pulling or any jealously she has toward Alice. Her expressions make up for, at times, dull line delivery and wholly show the growth the character experiences.
The same can be said for Aoi’s Alice. Alice comes across as more confident and sympathetic, and this is due to Aoi’s flawless performance. On the surface, you see a strong girl with a cheerful demeanor, but her eyes tell the story of someone who puts up a front and hides issues at home with her cold, uncaring mother who only wants to chase men. Hana is the one constant in her life and it shows, while Misashi provides the male stability she lacks. Alice is a joy to watch.
Then there’s Misashi, who is possibly one of the worst characters ever conceived. He’s dull, lacks a personality, and is too monotone to even be remotely humorous. Yes, he is supposed to be this way since Hana and Alice’s initial attraction to him was through a distant glimpse on a train, but he could have had some hint of a personality in order to make him interesting. His dullness got so annoying that he totally dragged the movie.
Exploring the friendship and the dynamics of Hana and Alice’s friendship really should have been the focus, and it was mostly except for the limp noodle Misashi pretty much dampening the whole movie experience. He is a dark cloud that was hard to avoid. There’s monotone, and then there’s walking the line of completely unbelievable as a character: This is Misashi.
Other elements of the film should be noted, though. The documentary-style filming made the story feel more personal, so this was definitely a help. The muted tones, however, constantly hinted at some of the dullness contained in the Hana & Alice.
Overall, if you enjoy friendship films but despise dull characters, this film may not be for you. There are subtle hints at humor, and Aoi and Suzuki are superb in their roles, but the bland male lead doesn’t help the film at all.