Japanese filmmakers seem intent on breaking down the barriers between live action and animation genres. Last issue’s Present for You, for example, mixed live action and claymation. This time, we have an animated prequel to the live action film Hana & Alice (2004) which uses rotoscoping to give a sense of realism.

Directed by Shunji Iwai, the original Hana & Alice was a lovely coming-of-age drama which focused attention on actresses Yu Aoi (Alice) and Anne Suzuki (Hana), with Aoi going on to become a huge star. Iwai was actually tipped to become the next great Japanese director when he got five Japanese Academy Award nominations on his second film, Love Letter (1995). His major follow-up, Swallowtail Butterfly (1996), then nabbed eight noms and won Most Popular Film. But his star seemed to fade a bit (despite the challenging and heavy All About Lily Chou-Chou, 2001) and the original Hana & Alice was a return to form of sorts.

The current piece, set in high school, shows how the young women developed their friendship and experienced first love. When a boy is murdered they set out to solve it. With this sweet and expressive film, Iwai has brilliantly jumped modes of expression, while retaining the essence of the original. Wonderful stuff. English title: The Case of Hana & Alice. (100 min)