Starring: Anne Suzuki, Yû Aoi, Tomohiro Kaku
Director: Shunji Iwai
Running Time: 136 mins
Hana & Alice is a Japanese film about two best friends who develop a crush on the same boy, and when one plans a trick to get him to date her, it leads to complications in their relationship.
This is a film with a fascinating premise that sets up the potential for great comedy and emotional intrigue throughout. While it does manage that well over its first act, it really falters when it comes to extending the core story beyond an hour or so, and so begins a fairly disappointing run to the finish that never manages to emulate the best humour or drama of the earliest stages.
But let’s start with those earlier stages, which are easily the best period of the whole film. Starting off well in the groove of a typical teen romance, with two girls fawning over boys on their way to school, it’s a fairly easy and familiar opening that allows you to get into the characters before things take a turn for the somewhat more unique.
One of the girls, while following her crush home from school, sees him walk into a garage door and hurt his head – so she decides that when he wakes up, she’ll tell him that she’s his girlfriend, and he just forgot because of the accident.
It’s a great premise, and it makes for some very funny and awkward moments as well as some strongly emotional and genuinely fascinating twists and turns as a result. Over the film’s first act, while things all start to become a lot looser and more abstract, the combination of good humour and genuine drama throughout makes for a very entertaining watch, and the sort of story that I would have been glad to watch unfold for the rest of the film.
However, there is a point where the opening act sort of drives the story into its own dead end. While still interesting and entertaining up to that point, it’s clear that there’s no way that the screenplay can push this line of the story any further, leading to a signficant change in focus and atmosphere, and unfortunately the beginning of the film’s downfall.
Almost completely reversing the main focus of the film from Hana’s story to Alice’s, we get a slightly less concrete and definitely less interesting story for the following half hour, and although there are times when we go and look back at Hana’s story, as she tries to keep her ‘boyfriend’ in the dark about who she really is, those breaks are way too few and far between to have the meaningful impact they should.
Of course, the film is made even harder to watch simply because it moves at such a slow pace, and for such a long time. While the story goes in peaks and troughs throughout, eventually recovering to reinvigorate some good emotional drama come the third act, the pace becomes slower and slower throughout, and in tandem with a somewhat more dreamlike atmosphere and such a long running time, it becomes a very heavy watch.
Overall, Hana & Alice was a film with great potential that shines brightly early on, and at moments throughout later, however it fails to keep you fully engaged over the course of its very slow-moving two hours and fifteen minutes, and that makes for a much less entertaining watch, and often a lot more frustrating, than should have been the case, which is why I’m giving it a 7.2.