Sunday, July 19, 2015

Fantasia ’15: The Case of Hana & Alice

Ever wondered how Cher and Dionne first met, before the events of Clueless (marking its 20 year anniversary this year)? If Amy Heckerling made an animated prequel, she could still use the voices of Stacey Dash and Alicia Silverstone. She would be following the example of Shunji Iwai, who revisited the characters of his more impressionistic indie Hana and Alice (going on eleven years) in anime form. Junior high is a strange place, but when the two girls join forces they just might make some sense of it all in Iwai’s The Case of Hana & Alice (trailer here), which screens today during the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Thanks to divorce and family drama, Tetsuko “Alice” Arisugawa has a new home, a new name, and a new school. She now attends Ishinomori Middle School, but the strange hikikomorish girl across the street does not, even though they are roughly the same age. Of course, that would be Hana Arai.

Initially, Arisugawa faces some attempted bullying, but she puts a stop to that pretty quick. Bizarrely, some of it comes from where she sits in class. According to the school legend, a senior named Judas sat there the previous year, but he was murdered by his four “wives.” It makes little sense to her. Nevertheless, her classmates shun her desk like the Amityville Horror house. Eventually, Arisugawa learns she is also living in the previous home of Yuda (a.k.a. Judas). Creeped out by her proximity to so much presumed tragedy, she confronts Arai for information.

For a coming of age drama, Case has considerably more genre elements than you would ever expect, but that is a good thing for Fantasia audiences. The explanation behind the Judas legend is quite clever and darned satisfying. Along the way, Iwai creates some wonderfully compassionate moments, especially Arisugawa’s scenes with the elderly man she mistakes for Yuda’s father. There is indeed a good deal of heart in the film.

The downside is the CGI and roto-scoped animated is just okay, but it never distracts from the elegantly mysterious narrative. Fans of the original Hana and Alice will be delighted to hear Yu Aoi and Anne Suzuki giving voice to their beloved characters. Aoi is particularly expressive and energizing as Arisugawa, while the introverted Arai mostly requires husky mumbling from Suzuki.

Case is thoroughly enjoyable, even for viewers who have not seen the first live action film. In terms of pacing and tone, they are apples and oranges, but both remind you of what it was like to be a kid in school. Great fun throughout, with a sly sense of irony, The Case of Hana and Alice is highly recommended for animation fans and anyone who enjoys a good student drama when it screens today (7/19) as part of this year’s Fantasia.