Hirokazu Koreeda wowed me with his 2008 film, Still Walking, so I decided to check out some of his other work. First up is Hana, the film Koreeda made prior to Still Walking, and in it I see very little of what made Still Walking such a masterpiece. That’s both good and bad. I had hoped that the two films would be very different, but I had also hoped both would be equally entertaining. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.
Hana starts out well enough. A young samurai, nicknamed Soza, is living in an Edo shantytown in 1702 while looking to avenge the death of his father. The trouble is that he’s not experienced in swordplay or killing and he really would rather teach writing skills to the locals than look for a fight.
Junichi Okada’s Soza is a charmingly conflicted character. He spends much of his time with the eight year old son of a widow he enjoys the company of. As a sort of surrogate father, he excels, but as a samurai, he is a failure. The film works when Soza remains at the hub of all the local activity (and there’s a lot going on), but when the story strays too far away from his dilemma, it becomes tedious. There are too many characters and subplots and the film runs on at least 20 minutes too long. A good editing job could work wonders but might also ruin the intricate web of events at the film’s climax. As it is, by the time I got to the ending, I couldn’t have cared less. That’s a shame for a film that gets so much right.
The tone is lighthearted most of the time and there are many big laughs throughout. A quick edit could turn this into a genuine comedy, but it could also turn it into a tragedy. Perspective is something Koreeda has excess of so I wonder if he simply couldn’t see the forest for the trees this time around. There is a funny, moving, sweet story at the core of this work but I felt like it was often obscured. The only other film that I’ve felt similarly about was Takeshi Kitano’s Zatoichi reboot. The characters are well-developed and interesting, the performances are very good, the art direction is beautiful, and the cinematography is superb. The elements just never gel into a cohesive whole due to a screenplay that seems to be trying to cover too much ground.
If you’re a fan of Koreeda’s, you’ll probably enjoy Hana for its little successes. If not, I wouldn’t recommend it.