There seems to be a vague list of ingredients that you can throw together to make a “slice of life” anime film; a sub-genre prevalent within the huge industrial anime movement that seems, on the surface, to cater to a younger audience but can really achieve so much more. These films, named due to their proficiency at depicting everyday realism and imitating the finer points of Japanese society, are often brimming with teenage angst, overflowing with saudade and contain narratives that don’t tend to hinge on a central conflict but rather breeze around smoothly and carefully. Shunji Iwai’s The Case of Hana and Alice certainly ticks all these boxes but seems to be forged by a world-weary intelligence that exposes a wealth of complex emotions that anybody who was once young may recognise without being able to fully understand.
Despite its clear and simple beauty, the background to The Case of Hana and Alice is rather convoluted. It is actually a prequel to the live action film Hana and Alice, made by the same director in 2004, which dealt with the often cagey relationship between female best friends with a deft sense of humour. This prequel delves into the origins of that friendship, the foundations of which are tied into a high school urban legend. When Alice moves to town and becomes the subject of a school-wide curse for sitting at a dead student’s desk, she resolves to discover the truth behind what happened. Stumbling between myth and a host of characters, she realises her reclusive next door neighbour Hana might just hold the key to the whole ordeal.
The rotoscoping technique, an animation style brought into the mainstream by Richard Linklater with his 2001 film Waking Life, is used for primarily practical reasons but actually works on an aesthetic-thematic level as well. With this film being made ten years after the original and due to the loyalty the director had to his cast, Iwai had to find a way to incorporate his primary actors into the film and sidestep the obvious problem of them being ten years older. As such the technique is an ingenious, and actually rather sweet, way of achieving this. The watercolour templates of the sky, which seems to be at the perpetual state of ‘magic hour,’ and the wild, almost rushed, character animation lend a nostalgic edge to the narrative, almost as if we are looking back at a long ago adventure with a fuzzy fondness.
The pace of the film, which is comparatively slow but not necessarily methodical, may put some off but others will enjoy the free association narrative, which feels natural and expertly interwoven with the characters’ motivations. Despite plot threads being picked up and left without any full resolution, you never feel cheated. Characters outside Hana and Alice’s periphery are still treated with genuine care, be it the old man struggling with the fear of loneliness or the bullied girl who puts together a devious plan to manipulate her tormentors into respecting her. Iwai has crafted a world where the smallest of moments exist as a catalyst for the emotional shockwaves we all feel throughout our seemingly insignificant lives.
Infused with humour that treads a fine line between traditional anime slapstick and wonderful comic timing, The Case of Hana and Alice has the ability to make you smirk, grin and laugh without turning into a full-blown comedy. Iwai’s tender and understanding treatment of love and friendship between young females is a marvel considering he is a 53-year-old male. Or maybe it is the almost disguised lead performances of Yu Aoi and Anne Suzuki that should be praised for reinterpreting their honest, heartfelt performances from a decade before? There are not too many films that can bring form to such an intangible subject as nostalgia but here its done with an effortless charm.
The Case of Hana and Alice screened at Derby QUAD on Thursday 5th May 2016 as part of Derby Film Festival in conjunction with Satori Screen. More information on the festival and QUAD can be found here
More information on Satori Screen can be found here