Honey and Clover (VIZ Pictures, NR)

honeyclover-header.jpgAlthough Honey and Clover is primarily aimed at a youth market, adults needn’t shy away: they can enjoy the film for the window it provides into teenage Japanese society.



Honey and Clover, a live-action film based on the award-winning manga by Chica Umino, is basic teenage fare, but nicely realized and particularly interesting for the ways it differs from U.S.-produced films targeting the same age group. Five students in art school (based on Musashino Art University in Kodaira, Tokyo) work through the problems of college life, including the challenges of communal living, class projects, part-time jobs and worries about the future. They also hold parties, develop crushes, and engage in philosophical conversations and heartfelt self-examination at all hours.

Roommates Takemoto (Sho Sakurai) and Morita (Yusuke Iseya) both love Hagu (Yu Aoi), a brilliant but extremely shy new student. Mayama (Ryo Kase) is in love with his boss, Rika (Naomi Nishida), while Yamada (Megumi Seki) is in love with Mayama. Morita and Hagu have artistic crises. Professor Shuji  Hanamoto (Masato Sakai) provides sage advice but lets the students work through their own problems. Everyone’s very likeable and there’s never any real danger involved, but the characters are well-drawn, the interconnected storylines believable, and the cinematography by Keiji Hasegawa first-rate. Director Masahiro Takata’s approach is at times elliptical, but the stories are easy to follow even for those unfamiliar with the original manga.

Click for a larger image.The characters of Honey and Clover are very popular in Japan: besides the original manga, which won the 2003 Kodansha Manga Award for shojo manga (manga written for girls 10-18 years old), they also appear in two Japanese television series, one animated and one live action. Although Honey and Clover is primarily aimed at a youth market, adults needn’t shy away: they can enjoy the film for the window it provides into teenage Japanese society. I’m not arguing that what is on screen is literally real (any more than Dawson’s Creek provided a realistic portrait of typical American teenagers, or Baywatch of California lifeguards) but that it is a representation of something real (the process of becoming an independent adult) expressed in a way which is meaningful for a large audience in Japan.

The most interesting feature of Honey and Clover is how different it is from most American movies aimed at teenagers. There are no make out scenes, not even a whiff of the possibility of sex. There are no superimposed "modern problems" situations: no fights for social justice or students rebelling against the curriculum. The art school is not just a backdrop: we see the students working at their art and discussing artistic problems seriously, both with each other and with the professors. The central character is female, and she is much more concerned with developing as an artist than in having boyfriends or raising her social status. That Honey and Clover assumes a high degree of literacy from its young audience is clear from the opening screen, which quotes an Emily Dickinson poem: when was the last time you saw a popular American film for teenagers which opened on a similar note?

Honey and Clover is presented in Japanese with English subtitles. Extras included on the DVD include the "Hanemoto Study Group Discussion," an informal interview session in which case members videotape each other; cast and crew credits; two Japanese trailers for this film and seven English-language trailers for other films. Further information is available from the VIZ Pictures website (http://www.viz-pictures.com/) and the Honey and Clover film website http://www.honeyandclover.us/). | Sarah Boslaugh

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