This film is part of the 2016 New York International Children’s Film Festival
The Case of Hana & Alice (Hana to Arisu no Satsujin Jiken, or “The Murder Case of Hana & Alice” in Japanese) is an animated film that portrays the developing friendship between two girls in middle school who share a mutual desire to get to the bottom of a rumor about a murder. Arisugawa “Alice” Tetsuko is a tomboy and transfer student who seems to be in the middle of a bizarre and confusing case of bullying. Arai Hana is a hikikomori who hasn’t attended school in over a year and loves to put together elaborate plans. Together, their contrasting personalities are a recipe for disaster but in the most delightful ways possible.
Directed by Iwai Shunji, The Case of Hana & Alice is not a mystery in the traditional sense, and spends most of its time building up its characters and the path they take to solidifying their friendship. In a way, Hana and Alice have a vibe akin to the characterization aspects of th BBC Sherlock series, though in a much more lighthearted environment, and with certain qualities mixed between this film’s “Sherlock” and “Watson.” Whether it’s portraying Alice’s personality as a girl who doesn’t take nonsense from anyone, Hana’s agony as her best-laid strategies dissolve into nothing due to Alice’s act-before-you-think attitude, or even the random people they meet due to misunderstandings, the characters become increasingly endearing to the point that it almost doesn’t even matter how it all ends because there’s the sense and expectation that their combined forces have to lead to something amazing. The film’s pace is like a slowly paced progression of events that can actually feel intense and frenetic through the actions of its characters, which in turn creates a strange yet pleasant feeling of suspense that is both connected to and separate from the mystery at hand.
One of the more prominent and noticeable aspects of The Case of Hana and Alice is its style of animation, which mixes heavy rotoscoping and CG and thus gives the film an aesthetic uncommon to most Japanese animation. However, the consistency between the two elements is surprisingly good, without the jarring sense one gets when switching between animation styles. Although there are clear moments where one is being used over the other, the two sides blend together well. Thus, while something like the Flowers of Evil has a controversial reputation due to its rotoscoping (people either love it or hate it), I wouldn’t say the same qualities are as present in The Case of Hana and Alice even though similar techniques are utilized.
Prior to the start of the movie, the audience was told that the film is actually a prequel to a live action move titled simply Hana & Alice (which was itself based on Kit Kat commercials???), with the note that it uses the same actresses, Suzuki Anne and Aoi Yuu. While watching, I suspected that one of the reasons they decided to go with animation was because The Case of Hana and Alice is a prequel that takes place in middle school as opposed to the live action film’s high school setting, so a live action performance would somehow have to make them younger to fit in. What I wasn’t aware of at the time was that the first Hana and Alice was from 2004, which would make the act of portraying them convincingly as 14-year-olds even more difficult.
Because of this, I actually believe that rotoscoping was the right choice as a way to maintain the specific relationship between its titular characters that (I assume) is present in the 2004 film. While one might argue that just using traditional animation or 3DCG would have sufficed, I believe they really wanted not only Hana and Alice’s voices from Anne and Yuu, but also their mannerisms and overall physical presence.
Because the New York International Children’s Film Festival is dedicated to, well, children’s film, I always enjoy looking at what’s featured and then considering what it means to make a “movie for children.” The obvious answer is that it’s what you get when you create a film with children as the target audience, but that leads to other questions. What are the sorts of elements that resonate with children? What does it mean for a story to be “too adult?” To what extent should a children’s work take into account the adult audience who might likely be watching with their kids? I find that The Case of Hana and balances all of these questions, presenting an atmosphere and narrative that seems to embody both a sense of nostalgia and a sense of discovery, as if viewing the characters’ lives from both the past and the future.
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