It’s Thursday at the Derby Film Festival! Time for The Case of Hana and Alice!

by Elliot Davies

The Case of Hana & Alice - Derby Film Festival

The Satori Screen takes centre stage at The Derby Film Festival with an animated prequel to a 2004 teen romance that spits in the face of the ravages of time!

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

It doesn’t seem like a year since I last attended a Satori Screen screening at the Derby Film Festival.

Almost a year to the day I watched Tokyo Tribe on a fateful Thursday evening.

Fateful because, on that very day, against all better judgement, the people spoke and ushered in one thousand years of misery through meekly offering the reins to the bastard rich.

Another year. Another election day. Another screening on the Satori Screen at another Derby Film Festival.

This time the year is 2016. This time the election is a local election. This time the screening is The Case of Hanah & Alice (2015). But it’s the same Derby Film Festival.

I hope the Derby Film Festival is always a constant. We need stuff like this to make everything else feel less miserable.

Stuff like The Case of Hana & Alice, which pretty much ends with an open invite to bathe in illusion and happiness.

Then bathe.

Thanks! I will!

Not all the time, of course. That would be silly.

But once you’ve cast your vote at a polling station where the staff seem surprised to see you before spending eight hours mired in a world where nothing seems to matter as everything you hold dear appears to crumbles to dust outside the window, what more can you do but spend 90 minutes in a darkened room where everything seems magical while you wait, possibly in vain, for things to get better?

There’s much more you can do. Obviously. But I’m so so tired. A lot of people are. Right now, I’m just happy to bathe.

And The Case of Hana & Alice seems specifically designed for blissful bathing in illusion. The whole thing’s an illusion.

The Case of Hana & Alice - Derby Film Festival

I didn’t know, to begin with, that it’s a prequel to 2004’s Hana & Alice. That was a 2004 Japanese high school drama, which I’m now quite ashamed to have never heard of. After all, if a film is worthy of a prequel, then surely said film is widely acknowledged to be “of note”?

If you’re making a prequel to a film starring young people in which the actors depicting these young people were older than the characters to begin with, you’re immediately going to encounter a rather obvious problem: How can older actors depict younger versions of characters they were possibly too old to be playing in the first place?

I suppose you could take the Wet Hot American Summer approach and… do nothing. But your doing nothing is a statement. It’s read as parody. In the case of Michael Showalter’s hysterical Netflix comedy, this is an accurate reading.

But when you’re making a tender-yet-knowing dramedy about adolescent superstition and friendship, the age of your actors is going to present a problem. If they’re too old, nobody will take you seriously. But you can’t just draft in some younger actors, because then you’re in When Harry Met Lloyd territory – people will not react well to interlopers butchering the characters they’ve already fallen in love with.

So when making a prequel to Hana & Alice, writer/director Shunji Iwai struck upon an ingenious solution: Just paint over everything!

Yep, he filmed his prequel on the cheap using the same lead actors before painting over the film itself to create a lush animated world.

It’s an animation technique known as rotoscoping, and I’ve encountered it before. If you haven’t seen Ralph Bakshi’s American Pop, watch it ASAP, because IT WILL CHANGE YOU.

But that being said, I’ve never seen a film, animated or otherwise, that looks quite as beautiful as The Case of Hana & Alice.

The look is jarring at first – weirdly weightless characters who appear to float across blurry-yet-almost-photorealistic backgrounds – but you get used to it almost immediately. And once you do, you realise that every single frame is literally a work of art.

You can sometimes even see the brushstrokes, and most shots are saturated with bleary blue and red lights, to give them an added bleariness. The skies are especially lovely – one might even say Turneresque – and the sheer transcendent beauty of the visuals is particularly evident whenever the scenery moves – hand-drawn paintings in parallax scrolling motion, oh yes!

This gorgeous imagery is used to tell a story that, while totally engaging, is nonetheless completely ordinary – for young teenagers, that is. After all, what 14 year old hasn’t exploited a local ghost story through pretending to be possessed in order to win friends at school before joining forces with a local recluse to solve a murder mystery that probably doesn’t even exist in the first place?

But the dreamy feel serves a purpose beyond hiding the age of the leads. When you’re 14, everything is vital. But you’re not yet jaded. Every day feels like a glorious technicolour adventure written by and starring you, and your friends. It might be said that this is just what the world looks like when you’re 14.

The Case & Hana & Alice is simply charming. No matter how critical things are presented to be, the stakes are never too high. Yet this is a rich and inviting world in which people love and care about each other. There’s an extended subplot in which one of our heroes, Alice, befuddles and befriends a lovely old man.

I actually heard someone in the audience go “aww” during their dinner date.

I didn’t want it to end. Cruelly, you’re invited to bathe in happiness and illusion at the very moment you realise how enchanting you’ve found the preceding 90 minutes to be.

And then it’s over.

I was going to stay out and watch Wild At Heart. It would have been the first time I saw this David Lynch film, and the first Lynch film I ever saw on the big screen.

But I was feeling far too good. I didn’t want to have my world and my mind shook by surrealist dislocation in an ultraviolent road movie. So I came home.

I had to come home anyway. I had a review to write.

And that…is what you’ve just read. 😉