Saturday, September 12, 2009

Manga at the Movies: Honey and Clover

Since I watched the Honey and Clover film via Netflix, I thought I'd review it. Of course, I'm a big fan of the manga, so I was wondering just how much I'd like the film. Considering the many live-action and animated films based on manga properties, this might serve as a reoccurring feature.

The story: Takemoto is a student at an arts college in Tokyo. One day while hanging out at Hanamoto-sensei's house, he meets Hagu, a shy new student studying painting, and falls in love at first sight. As Takemoto tries to win over Hagu, they form a group of friends with Morita, an immensely talented scultptor and "super senior" who also has a thing for Hagu; Mayama, a soon-to-graduate design student with an overwhelming—creeping on stalker—crush on his intern supervisor; and Yamada, a ceramics major with an equally intense crush on Mayama.

As they go through their year together at school, they struggle with finding artistic inspiration, dealing with unrequited love and exploring the unknown territory of the adult world. When Takemoto's loses out to Morita for Hagu's attention, he sets out on an epic bike ride to somehow put his life in order. Meanwhile, Hagu has her own internal struggle—as one professor pushes her to knowingly create award-winning art, she finds herself sadly uninspired. There's also the almost-too-painful-to-watch love triangle between Yamada, Mayama and Mayama's boss, Rika.

From page to screen: I loved watching this manga come to life in a live-action film. While there's quite a bit less of the slapstick humor, I was happy to see a crystallization of several key, emotional moments. For instance, I loved the opening scene where Takemoto sees Hagu for the first time—just like the manga, there's a windswept look to the scene, while Hagu is surrounded by floating sakura blossoms. I also liked how they illustrated Hagu's and Morita's creative process; at one point, they unknowingly inspire each other and create some fantastic art in the process.

But, there are differences, too, mostly surrounding Morita. While many would be upset at the difference, it would be very difficult to recreate the Morita of the manga without the character looking entirely ridiculous and impossibly unbelievable. One of the biggest differences that I really enjoyed was the imaginary interrogation scenes in Mayama's room—since he's pretty much Rika's stalker, what with collecting her trash and other impersonal items, he dreams of two police officers questioning him for his Rika-centric habits. But, I liked this, too, as it provided a humorous angle to what would be a dramatic moment in any other film.

As a side note, I also loved that Morita was wearing a South Dakota State University T-shirt in one scene—that's a university that is sometimes confused with my alma mater and current employer.

Characterization: The main cast of characters was right on and some were better than my expectations, especially Hagu. One of my more recent criticisms (and one that other reviewers have noted) is the all-too-childlike appearance of Hagu. Thankfully, while the actress that plays her in the film is young looking, she's certainly not a child. Takemoto's appropriately earnest and hard working, while Morita is a handsome and inexplicably talented artist. While we don't see Yamada go Iron Lady here, she does give Mayama a literal run for his money in one emotionally charged scene.

As far as the side characters went, I absolutely adored the Fujiwara brothers; they appear and act exactly as they did in the book and play up the campy twin brother thing to hilarious effect. Professor Hanamoto is also appropriately thoughtful and stoic, with his constant cigarette as a prop in nearly every scene.

The verdict: I liked Honey and Clover and would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the books, or those who like slice of life, coming-of-age films. It's a funny and heart-warming foreign film that reminds us of all of the inherent difficulties we all encounter in growing up and becoming adults. Honey and Clover is available in the U.S. from Viz Pictures.

Interested in seeing Honey and Clover for yourself? Then check out the trailer below.

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