“The Case of Hana & Alice”– 2015 Fantasia Film Review

In this absolutely delightful anime – drawn in a soft-focus, naturalistic, pastel-dominant style – 14-year-old Alice transfers to a new school and is immediately shunned by the other students.  She eventually learns that the desk her teacher assigned her to (one of two empty desks that sit untouched in the middle of the classroom) once belonged to a murdered student named Judas who had four wives, each of whom was also named Judas. And the desk behind it?  It belonged to a student who is said to have simply vanished one day, never to be heard from again.

Alice finds this all a bit fishy, but the other students all seem to believe an evil spirit inhabits the desks, and that Alice – by entering the forbidden circle containing them – may now be possessed by that evil. Alice desires to put an end to this foolishness and an investigation of the facts leads her to Hana, the supposedly vanished student.  Hana, she learns, simply decided to stop coming to school.  Apparently, that’s something teenagers in Japan can choose to do.  Hana, learning from Alice about the rumored death of the boy who once sat in front of her (a boy she had a very strong crush on), decides to help Alice with her investigation.

Director Shunji Iwai, known for live action cinema like “Swallowtail Butterfly” and “All About Lily Chou-Chou,” created this animated film as a prequel to “Hana & Alice.”  He chose animation rather than live action because the former allowed him to use the voice talents of the original actresses, Yu Aoi and Anne Suzuki.  As in much of Iwai’s work, the plot is largely nothing but a gentle structure upon which to hang a charming and loving examination of girls enjoying – and surviving – their teenage years.  In the end, we this time learn that nothing quite says “I Love You” like “I won’t forget this pain as long as I live.” And isn’t that the truth!

“The Case of Hana & Alice” received its North American premiere at the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival on July 19.  For further information go to fantasiafestival.com.