What They Say:
When Alice transfers to a new school, she hears an urban legend about a student who disappeared and is suspected to have been killed. Alice discovers that she lives next door to his former house, now occupied by reclusive classmate Hana. Hana and Alice investigate this “murder case”, but find their lack of detective skills an obstacle, in this unusual and charming film, in which a mystery ultimately gives way to a wonderfully nuanced story of friendship.
The audio presentation for the release brings us the original Japanese language only done up with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless mix. The film is one that is definitely largely about dialogue when you get down to it but there are some good moments where the music swells around the design and some of the sillier moments get to go a bit bigger. The bulk of it involved just the characters talking though and it’s well-conveyed with some good placement where needed. This works out well since the characters aren’t always placed alongside each other and we get some good levels as well with some whispering and the like. The audio overall is solidly done and it comes across clean and crisp while the music stands out in a great way.
Originally released in 2015, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. This rotoscoped project was worked on by Rockwell Eyes and Stephen Stephen and it’s definitely very well done considering how bad a lot of older rotoscoped material sticks in our minds. The film gives us a lot of detail from what was shot for it and the movements of the characters come across as mostly natural but with the rotoscoped element giving it just that little extra bit of oddness in a lot of ways. But the encoding captures everything well with some very clean colors throughout and a lot of solidly vibrant pieces that definitely look great. I’m not a fan of rotoscoping in general but I enjoyed what they did here and it feels appropriate considering its relation to the live-action film from 2004.
The packaging for this release comes in a standard-sized Blu-ray case with an o-card that replicates the case artwork. It’s the familiar key visual and poster that was used for the Japanese release with the two leads together in a cute way set against the school backdrop. You get a lot from their expressions but with this zoomed-in a big it looks like it’s a bit darker and not as light as the original poster. That makes the uniforms blend a bit more and it loses some of the details. The logo is nicely placed and I even like the color choices used with the yellow, pink, and orange for it as it’s just kind of cutely garish. The back cover is traditionally laid out along the top with a nice shot from the film and then a quote below it. There are some well-chosen shots from the show and a good summary of the premise. Add in a clean look at the extras and some logos along the bottom and it’s covered well. I do wish it had a technical grid so that you knew exactly how it’s set up as it doesn’t make it clear here that it’s Japanese-only. You get that on the case itself but not the o-card. While no show related inserts are included we do get a nice two-panel spread of the classroom as the reverse side artwork.
The menu for this release is pretty basic but works well to set the mood for the film. With the logo taking up a decent chunk along the upper right, the bulk of what we get are clips from the film itself. It’s a good mix with some moody pieces in there as well but also some colorful and energetic ones. It plays well while you can use the menu stripe along the bottom that provides easy access to the setup, chapters, and the extras included in the release. With it being monolingual the language setup is for your subtitle options, which does include none.
The extras for this release are definitely fun and help expand on the creative behind it. While we get the trailers and TV spots that are always welcome, we also get lots of other footage out of the Japanese release. The interview with lead actors Yui Aoi and Anne Suzuki comes in at thirty minutes and provides lots of good insights into it since it goes back to their performances in the original live-action film. We also get some distinctly Japanese things such as the film completion premiere which is about twelve minutes and has the creative and cast coming out to talk about it and their experiences and, of course, hoping that everyone enjoys it. We also get the premiere stage greeting that was done like five days later and runs largely the same amount of time with familiar themes echoed. The director gets an interview piece that tells you upfront it’s extra-long as it clocks in at nearly forty minutes. There’s a lot to dig into here and I skimmed it but definitely enjoyed what it presented. The last piece was a bit unexpected for me as it’s a twenty-six-minute piece with Makoto Shinkai talking about the project. He’s always interesting to listen to talk about the process and with the nature of this film there’s a good bit to talk about.
Originally a short film that was written and directed by Shunji Iwai, Hana and Alice became a feature-length film in 2004. The basis of the short films was part of the 30th-anniversary of Kit Kat in Japan of all things. The film was well-received at the time and the performances by Anne Suzuki and Yui Aoi thoroughly enjoyed. So, it was surprising when a prequel feature film was announced for 2015 that would be rotoscoped and animated, bringing Shunji Iwai back to work on it and the two leads from the original film back to voice their characters once again. It is amusing to see them talk about rewatching the original film and their performances then and being embarrassed by it since it is such an odd thing to come back and do in an unusual way. I’ve not seen the live-action film so that didn’t impact my view on this film in trying to connect things, which is probably for the best.
The setup for the film is straightforward and works well in a way that viewers can connect with. Tetsuko has just moved into a new neighborhood with her mother who is dealing with a divorce. There’s tension between mother and daughter and Tetsuko, who also goes by Alice, doesn’t like the changes – particularly with the school since it’s kind of wound tightly and with some terrible sailor uniform pieces. Even her first day there is awkward as she’s “accused” of releasing some evil spirits in the classroom and one of the girls gets them to do a ceremony to reseal it. None of this makes a good impression on Alice and has her wanting to be involved in all of this even less. But the story seeds something in her as the empty desks involved a boy that has seemingly disappeared and may be dead and a girl that was held back for missing so many classes, aka Hana.
It’s no surprise that Hana is a neighbor who spends little time coming to school and that the “Judas” of the stories and ceremony is named Kotaro Yuda. Hana has been wanting to find out what happened to Yuda but has been unable to for a range of reasons and with Alice coming over being curious, it sets into motion plans for Hana to get her to go to Yuda’s father’s place of work to see what she can find out – if he’s even still alive himself. It’s not exactly complicated but it’s the kind of teenage complexity that you’d expect mixed with some wild imagination moments. The main result is that it puts the two into the same quest, to find Kotaro Yuda, and discover what happened to him – especially since it seems like Hana has a bit of a thing with him.
The film isn’t made up of a lot of comedy bits or wild situations but it has elements that make you laugh with how bad Alice is at trying to be a spy-like character. When she goes to the place of employment, she flubs the names and instead deals with another older man that works with Yuda’s father. That she ends up stalking him – ineffectively – it creates a bit of a bond between the two as he’s the general paternal type senior citizen that doesn’t want to see her come to any harm. Of course, some of it has her interpreting it in a pervy kind of way, but the guy comes across honestly and it’s fun to watch how he basically takes care of her for a bit, from her taxi tab to some good and general company. This leads to other explorations and a look at Hana’s past as to why she’s been close to Yuda for as long as she has and it helps to build a good narrative of a childhood crush that went unrealized but has haunted Hana ever since. And that openness helps to draw Alice into the fold so that the two become good friends.
While it takes the film a bit to get going in some ways I really appreciated the time it took to set the stage for why Alice is going to feel so disconnected from school and her mother, which is why making a friend in Hana is so important. Hana being an outsider herself after the prior events and being held back means that she’s a safe friend to make where there’s no likelihood of Hana having friends that would complicate things. The two take a bit to really connect but when it gets toward the end and we have the big truck sequence and all the craziness that comes from it, you really do feel that the two are best friends at this point. There’s a lot of fun to be had with how these two operate, especially Hana’s frustration with Alice in the mission to Yuda’s father’s workplace, but Alice gives back in a lot of ways to so it’s not an abusive kind of friendship, just one where they can be more themselves and sharp at times.
While I’m frustrated that it took over four years from its Japanese release to make its way here, I’m glad that the Case of Hana & Alice finally did. GKIDS put together a good release here with Shout! Factory in that we get a great looking encoding and a lot of strong extras that make it a good deep dive to enjoy after the film is over. With the film tied to a live-action work that hasn’t been released here, it’s no surprise this is a harder sell and one that didn’t warrant a dub. But it is a fun film about teenage friendship and some of the ways they can be eccentric and fun when they’re given the chance to really be themselves. It’s a delightful project that’s easy to recommend.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Interview With Voice Actors Yu Aoi And Anne Suzuki, Film Completion Press Conference, Film Premiere Stage Greeting, Interview With Director Shunji Iwai, Message From Animator Makoto Shinkai, Theatrical Trailers, and TV Spots
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Shout! Factory / GKIDS
Release Date: September 17th, 2019
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.