From the dark world of junior high school boys in "All about Lily Chou-chou", Iwai has shifted to the lighter world of two high school girls.
Hana and Alice are best friends who do everything together. Alice is the leader of the pair, so it is no surprise when Hana follows her on an early morning expedition to the train station where Alice's latest crush gets the train in to school. Alice soon tires of her crush, but Hana meanwhile has fallen for the crush's "younger brother" Miyamoto and continues the trek to the station by herself.
When the two matriculate at the high school that Miyamoto already attends, Hana enters the rakugo (traditional comedic storytelling) club of which Miyamoto is one of two members. And when one day Miyamoto takes a nasty blow to the head she enters into a crazy scheme to get him to fall in love with her.
Alice, meanwhile, has troubles of her own dealing with a flighty mother, a father she rarely sees, and trying to find herself through a series of acting and modeling auditions after being scouted on the streets of Tokyo. And when she gets roped in to Hana's scheme she finds that Miyamoto is falling for her instead, and her relationship with Hana may be threatened.
The two main characters are real and appealing, neither is one-dimensional. Miyamoto is less interesting, and his motivation less clear. The visuals, as usual, are beautiful especially the frozen fields, cherry blossom lanes, and the ballet scenes. Music always plays an important part in Iwai films (especially Swallowtail and Lily Chou-chou), and the music in this one is very good (composed this time by Iwai himself)... but there are points where it is hard to tell which is the focus, the music or the story. Sometimes it seems that the movie is there to complement the music, and not the other way around.
Also the story has a tendency to wander, and may seem long to someone looking for a straight forward love/friendship story.
Personally I enjoyed the film... and found it got better on repeated viewings... I found Aoi Yu and Suzuki Anne very easy to relate to, recalling the confusion, insecurities, etc of high school days. It is one of Iwai's more comedic pieces, and at the same time subtly moving. It was not overly simplistic or clear cut. And I especially enjoyed Aoi's ballet solo toward the end of the film (both for the solo itself and it's place in the story) I think that fans of Iwai's style will enjoy it.
Keep an eye out for the many cameos (Hirosue Ryoko (of ARITA), Osawa Takao (of Lily Chou-chou), Ito Ayumi (of Swallowtail and Lily Chou-chou)... Abe Hiroshi, Yoshioka Hidetaka (voice only)... and many others)
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