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Hana and Alice – HK Region 3 (Panorama) vs South Korean Region 3 (Enter One)
5th April 2005


Hana and Alice Comparison
Rating/Certificate: HK Category I
Region: 3
DVD Release Date: 31st December 2004
Run Time: 135 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Anamorphic: Yes
Colour: Yes
Video Signal: NTSC
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Genre: Drama
Soundtrack: Dolby Digital 2.0 Japanese, Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese, DTS 5.1 Japanese
Subtitles: Chinese, English
Extra Features: Behind the Scenes Documentary, Four Short Films, Director Information, Trailer, TV Spot
Easter Egg: No
Director: Shunji Iwai
Starring: Anne Suzuki, Yu Aoi
Related Movies: Jam Films, Jam Films 2, Casshern, Battle Royale

Hana and Alice Comparison
Rating/Certificate: South Korea 12
Region: 3
DVD Release Date: 1st February 2005
Run Time: 135 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Anamorphic: Yes
Colour: Yes
Video Signal: NTSC
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Genre: Drama
Soundtrack: Dolby Digital 2.0 Japanese
Subtitles: Korean, Japanese, English
Extra Features: Behind the Scenes Documentary, Four Short Films, Director and Cast Information, Trailer, Music Video
Easter Egg: No
Director: Shunji Iwai
Starring: Anne Suzuki, Yu Aoi
Related Movies: Jam Films, Jam Films 2, Casshern, Battle Royale

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Hana and Alice ComparisonHana and Alice Comparison

If you have been paying attention to the Japanese film industry over recent years, then you may be aware of Shunji Iwai. He is the latest in a line of directors that are responsible for evolving the shape of Far Eastern cinema; pushing the boundaries of conventional filmmaking and providing an audio-visual flair that is unique to each director’s individual style. Iwai has a well established history of directing commercials, music videos, TV dramas and now feature length productions. His careful attention to imagery and striking use of music has made him one of the most influential filmmakers of today’s generation.

Film


Despite Iwai’s vast catalogue of titles, Hana and Alice is only his fourth feature length film, behind All About Lily Chou-Chou,  Swallowtail and Love Letter. It is interesting to note that whilst his works utilise consistent mellow patterns, the narrative themes explored and character study are startlingly contrasted with each title. Swallowtail for instance is a mind-blowing experience, illustrating the lives of foreign fortune seekers in a megalopolis named Yen-town. All About Lily Chou-Chou on the other hand is a melancholic study of youth pop culture, following a group of boys as they obsess over an idol.

Shunji Iwai diverts attention to two teenage girls in his latest opus Hana and Alice – a tale of two best friends whose friendship is threatened by the presence of a handsome student. Alice is outgoing, energetic and embraces every opportunity to do something spontaneous. Conversely, her best friend Hana (Japanese for ‘flower’) is slightly more conservative and does not always express her true intentions. The two are literally inseparable, always acting like teenagers, walking to school together and attending the same ballet lessons. However, the girls face the all important transition to senior high, enforcing a barrier limiting the amount of time that these two friends can spend together.

Hana and Alice Comparison
Hana tricks her high school crush Masashi Miyamoto into thinking he has amnesia and is also her boyfriend. In an act of desperation, she persuades Alice to pretend to be his ex-girlfriend so that the whole story appears convincing. The irony is that Alice has openly expressed how much she adores Miyamoto, whilst Hana sat quietly and insisted that he was nothing special. Hana’s surprising actions have formed a new reality for herself and her boyfriend but have also created a romantic entanglement, as Alice still obviously has feelings for Miyamoto. Likewise, Miyamoto is confused over why he broke up with Alice in the first place. Furthermore, with Hana spending more time with Miyamoto and Alice chasing her dreams of stardom, the precious bond between the childhood friends is gradually distancing apart.

Not only does Shunji Iwai helm his colossal projects with the utmost competence, he is often responsible for penning the original draft on paper, thus emphasising how creative he truly is. Above all else, he is a masterful storyteller who approaches certain moods with incredible accuracy. In Hana and Alice, he highlights two regular teenagers but exposes the complex nature of these characters and what it feels like to go through such a difficult chapter in life. Iwai avoids tiresome clichés and delivers a remarkably sincere coming of age tale, where innocent children are forced to tackle relationship issues like mature adults. The dual protagonists provide a greater understanding of the joys and sorrows of growing up but perhaps greater attention is given to Alice, as she is the one secretly suffering.

There is also a level or poignancy introduced with Alice’s family background. Her parents are divorced and she lives in cluttered house with her mother, who periodically has a new boyfriend. It is somewhat shameful to watch a scene where a mother publicly ignores her daughter, so that the latest boyfriend is unaware of the additional family member. In contrast, the times spent with Alice’s father are tender and sweet, as he is the only one who feels true affection towards his daughter. Through regular visits, Alice finally learns the value of love and sacrifice.

Hana and Alice Comparison
Iwai’s approach to the film’s pacing and editing has ensured that viewers will not notice the reasonably long runtime of 135 minutes. Every chapter, shot and dialogue is carefully planned and serves a purpose; always with the intention of nurturing the story and character relationship. In fact once the film had finished, I had an immense urge to either watch the film again or find another Iwai title to stick in my DVD player. The initial third of the film is beautifully slow, pacing itself to exhibit the sweet innocence of the teenagers before pushing them in rigorous situations that will test their judgement as adults. I have heard complaints towards the story’s open-endedness, with various loose ties and inefficient conclusions. It must be noted that the film is fundamentally about the friendship of two girls, as they face a vital period of their adolescent lives. Personally, I felt that the last scene contains the perfect closing dialogue to such a warm, pleasant tale – ending the film on just the right note.

The performances from Anne Suzuki and Yu Aoi, who play Hana and Alice respectively, are remarkably genuine – exploring a thorough range of emotions to create their multi-dimensional characters. Examining a scene where Hana is tormented with guilt and sadness, it is possible to pin-point the exact second where her heart breaks. Words fail to describe the sorrow; the tension on Anne’s face and the rigidity of her muscles as she chokes back the tears will provide an excellent understanding of the meaning of pain. Anne Suzuki is a well recognised child actress in Japan, appearing in many TV dramas and has even broken into Hollywood. She has come a long way in a few short years since Returner and will undoubtedly continue to astonish fans in the future.

Yu Aoi is like a ray of sunshine in this film, always beaming with enthusiasm and rarely pausing. Only her quieter scenes with her father and Miyamoto remind the viewer of her softer, more delicate side. Her suppressed rage and frustration with Hana’s character accumulate until it is no longer possible to act in the background. Evidently, whilst Aoi’s lines are delivered with plenty of charm and affection, she can be surprisingly cold but there is always a crystal bond with Hana, which will never disappear.

Hana and Alice Comparison
Of course the main romance that the audience has with any Iwai title is the breathtaking imagery and music. Hana and Alice is a special case because Iwai composed the ballads himself. The score plays a governing role in capturing the desired moods and tones that the director is aiming for. The gentle melodies comprise of piano, strings and woodwind elements that resonate blissfully throughout the film. In fact, there are only a few chapters free of any music whatsoever – these segments quite often rely on dialogue or even silence to achieve the preferred feeling.

The visuals are absolutely beautiful, capturing a consistent dream-like haze where the boundaries are blurred. A lot of Hana’s scenes contain a fantastic array of flowers, of course remembering that Hana does mean ‘flower’ in Japanese. The Cherry blossoms especially look graceful as the fallen flowers trail in the wind. Conversely, Alice’s scenes capture a lot of the green landscape and forestry, which are still gorgeous but the pallet is restricted to a single primary colour. Perhaps Iwai used these backgrounds to symbolise the divergent beauties and qualities that both girls have to offer. Either way, what he has done is created a poetic masterpiece that loses nothing from constant viewings. My advice would be to pay close attention to Shunji Iwai from now on, explore his back catalogue of titles and hopefully look forward to further intimate projects.

Video


Both discs present Hana and Alice in an anamorphic widescreen format, maintaining an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Due to the dreamy nature of the film, neither transfer is particularly sharp – not that this is a negative comment; there is a gentle layer of softness throughout the film. I believe this may be intentional, as various shots contain out of focus sections, particular towards the left and right side of the frame. Hana and Alice generally uses filters to produce a manipulative colour scheme, but still manages to provide healthy skin tones and shade reproduction. However there are times when the saturation increases on both versions to exaggerate objects such as flowers and the scenery but in effect, also makes the skin shades turn slightly redder than usual.

The brightness and contrast are also kept fairly consistent but occasionally, there is some powerful lighting that masks certain objects. However as this is a filming issue, it will not affect the video grading. The black levels are admirable, certainly not grey but adapt well to the remaining colour scheme.

Note: clicking on each image will download the full resolution screen grab.

Hana and Alice Comparison
HK (Panorama) Region 3


Hana and Alice Comparison
South Korea (Enter One) Region 3


Hana and Alice Comparison
HK (Panorama) Region 3


Hana and Alice Comparison
South Korea (Enter One) Region 3


Hana and Alice Comparison
HK (Panorama) Region 3


Hana and Alice Comparison
South Korea (Enter One) Region 3


Hana and Alice Comparison
HK (Panorama) Region 3


Hana and Alice Comparison
South Korea (Enter One) Region 3


Examining both transfers side by side, it can be concluded that there are some major differences. Firstly, the Korean disc has slightly stronger colours that emphasise the landscape and primary details. This is definitely easier on the eye and provides a visual boost, making the HK transfer look dull in comparison. Moreover, the Korean transfer is noticeably sharper, with finer details on leaves, fabric texture and even hair patterns. Whilst both transfers suffer from poor colour transition and exhibit chroma noise, these problems are far more evident on the HK disc, where shades progress in massive ‘chunks’ and are no way near as smooth as the Korean video.

The aforementioned issue most likely originated from weak MPEG compression. In essence, this has also lead to pixilation on the HK disc. During instances where there is extensive camera movement, the screen is riddled with nasty blocks that distort a beautiful image. In addition, the amount of ghosting is enormous – every body movement results in a noticeable trail that is distracting to say the least. Thankfully these issues are not present on the Korean disc, thus making it the obvious winner with regards to the image transfer.

Audio


The Korean Enter One disc contains a Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo soundtrack, whilst the HK Panorama version boasts Japanese Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 mixes in addition to the Stereo track. Upon initial examination of the Stereo options available on both versions, it was revealed that they are strikingly similar. In this case, the audio is predominately originated from the forward channels; namely dialogue background noises and such. The score is evenly distributed throughout the remaining speakers with sufficient precision and clarity. Any differences are negligible and are not enough to award either track the definite winner.

I hate to be the source of bad news but the difference between the Stereo and DTS soundtrack is surprisingly slim, where the latter is barely an improvement at all and is definitely not showcase material. The DTS achieves more or less the same effect but with great control of the surrounds. A minor amount of ambient noise did creep into the rears but is dismissible unless you really listen out for it. A great example is the ballet photograph scene, where the shutter can be heard stronger at the surround channels on the DTS mix. The Stereo track just has music playing at that particular location.

The surprising victory here is for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, where on this rare occasion it outshines the DTS option. The audio, especially Iwai’s marvellous score, is richer and more fulfilling than any of the previous tracks. Moreover, the dialogue and background noises appear more aggressive, taking advantage of better audio separation and control. Overall, the Dolby 5.1 mix contains comparatively superior texture and greater dynamism, making the HK disc the winner in the audio department.

Hana and Alice Comparison
HK (Panorama) Region 3


Hana and Alice Comparison
South Korea (Enter One) Region 3


Hana and Alice Comparison
HK (Panorama) Region 3


Hana and Alice Comparison
South Korea (Enter One) Region 3


The English subtitles for both versions are very much identical, with only the occasional word being different but the overall meaning is translated nevertheless. They appear to be relatively free of major spelling or grammatical errors and are nicely paced. The subtitles on the HK disc have a nicer looking font but this is not really a primary concern.

Extras


Both HK and Korean special editions consist of two discs, presenting the film on the first DVD and the supplementary materials on the second. They both also include a one hour behind the scenes documentary entitled, Filming H&A, which is separated into five chapters. This is a very thorough featurette, providing a wealth of behind the scenes material and interviews with the director, cast and crew. Furthermore, there are even interviews with Ryoko Hirosue and Takao Osawa, both of whom have appeared in previous Iwai titles and provide cameos in Hana and Alice. The ballet rehearsals were fascinating to watch, as were the consequences – plenty of pain and bandages on the actresses’ toes. Perhaps my favourite moment occurs quite early on, where the secrets of Tomohiro Kaku’s ‘stunt’ are revealed. Just a simple scene, where someone walks into a garage door and tumbles down, involves plenty of padding on the pants.

The only other common extra on both editions is Short Films Hana and Alice – four short films that essentially make up a condensed and re-edited version of the main feature. I believe that the project originally began as a series of short films that later developed into a film. These appear to be edited quite well but feel empty in comparison with the 135 minute version.

The HK disc has a Shunji Iwai biography and filmography (in Chinese and English), followed by a trailer and TV spot.

Hana and Alice Comparison
The Korean disc has biographies and filmographies for Shunji Iwai, Anne Suzuki, Yu Aoi and Tomohiro Kaku. However these are in Korean only. In addition, it also includes a Korean trailer and music video – ‘Want You Hear’ by Loveholic. The music video contains a montage of footage from the film. The track itself is an enjoyable upbeat ballad.

None of the extras on any disc have English subtitles but the menus contain English text and are therefore, remarkably easy to navigate. The quality of the Korean menus appears more of a professional standard but both are admirable attempts.

The HK special edition contains a cardboard box that houses two keep cases. The main case includes the official theatrical artwork, which in my opinion is excellent. The Korean version is aesthetically more pleasing, utilising original artwork with plenty of pink cherry blossoms. The packaging includes a sturdy cardboard case that houses two slim digipaks (like the original Korean Oldboy DVD). Furthermore, a picture/notebook is included and is nice to look at, despite it being in Korean.

Overall


Hana and Alice is a refreshing, well blossomed tale that leaves a sweet aftertaste. The two leading actresses, Anne Suzuki and Yu Aoi, provide immeasurable depths in their performances, tackling mature relationship issues in a complex teenage environment. Shunji Iwai once again provides breathtaking imagery soaked in a spectacular musical score that was composed by none other than Iwai himself. The delightful story and character study will ensure that Hana and Alice will be continuously cherished for years to come.

It is tremendously difficult to point the finger at a single release as the supreme winner. In terms of supplementary materials, the Korean edition wins due to the music video and attractive packaging. However, considering that none of the extras contain English subtitles, this makes the issue redundant. Therefore, the winner is dependant on the audio and visual quality of both discs. Hana and Alice is just as important visually as it is in terms of audio; therefore it is up to the individual to determine which is more vital. Personally, I am more swayed towards the Korean’s improved image transfer.

Hong Kong Region 3
South Korea Region 3
Film:1010
Video:46
Audio:75
Extras:67
Overall:78


Hana and Alice Comparison

Hana and Alice Comparison

The HK and Korean releases can be bought for HKD $130 and US $34.95 from DDDHouse and DVD Asian respectively.

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