The Case of Hana & Alice is an anime film starring Yû Aoi as as Tetsuko Arisugawa (Alice) and Anne Suzuki as Hana. The film was written and directed by Shunji Iwai in 2015 and can be watched with French and English subtitles. Upon doing my research for this blog post I discovered this film is actually a prequal to Iwai’s 2004 live action film Hana & Alice. But I believe this anime gem can be a stand-alone film, full of plenty of subtle themes with deeper meanings, interpretations and symbolism for us to explore. I am going to be delving into some of the most significant themes throughout the film. So, without further a due we’ll be taking a deeper look into The Case of Hana and Alice. Please note I have done my best to make this spoiler free!
Let’s start deep in the rabbit hole with a key element to the story’s Big Reveal: Number Four. As a western viewer I thought picking this number was a peculiar choice. Why choose four of something over another number? But as I began to dig into the significance of the number it became crystal clear. In Japan and other east Asian countries the number four is considered unlucky because in their language(s) it sounds terrifyingly similar to the word death. In fact there is even a name for the fear of number four, Tetraphobia. This heightens the mysteriousness featured in The Case of Hana & Alice as the two girls search for answers to expel the sinister unknowns that haunt them and their school. Although this is a more subtle detail to the film’s resolution I think it is a nice touch the creators included it as an extra layer of eeriness to the mystery.
In the film there are mentions of Judas and Amaterasu. My interpretation of the former is that the creators are referencing the biblical story of Judas’s betrayal which arguably is the catalyst that results in the Passion of Christ. I believe the creators included this reference to mirror the depth of emotion and betrayal Hana could have felt. Wallowing in her heartbreak drives her to rash actions the consequences of which leaves her with crippling guilt. Next, we have the Holy Amaterasu who the students at Alice’s new school use to help expel the evil that curses their class. According to my research Amaterasu is the Japanese Sun Goddess, queen of heaven and creation. The sun represents order, purity and justice. I believe her inclusion in the film signifies the rise in superstition. We see in the film Alice’s entire class live in fear of rumours and the supernatural entities that have been layered on top. And with no knowledge of where these rumours originated from and nobody around to verify the truth it is understandable why a group of scared students would invent rituals and pray to deities to protect them. So poor Alice must partake and join in with the madness in order to be accepted by her new peers. The inclusion of these themes seemed random to me at first but now that I have a deeper understanding of what they are and mean I think its clever how Iwai has used them here.
The use of ballet is showcased early on in the film and is definitely the most prominent theme in the story. Not only does the elegance of the dance form create aesthetically beautiful movements and visuals for the anime; I believe it relates to the characters and their journey in an interesting way. I believe ballet could be used by the creators to signify connection and friendship. The reason why I think this is the case is because Alice doesn’t begin to fit in until she starts doing ballet after school. It is said that ballerinas can suggest that you are able to deal with social situations and get along with other people which are skills you need to make friends. This idea is strengthened when Alice and Hana spend more time together. Alice teaches her a few moves and Hana’s curiosity about the dance grows. Ballet is shown to be a bonding experience between the girls and is the basis of their friendship that blossoms in the mid – end of the film. Another source states that ballet requires a dancer to be disciplined and gives them the confidence to move forward. This can be applied to Hana who at the beginning of the film was at a standstill in her life which begins to change once she has clarity, friendship and just lets the past go. She even starts attending ballet classes after school too.
These themes on their own are rather subtle and delicately sprinkled throughout the film – each contributing the overall narrative and meaning of the film. I had two aims with this post. Firstly, for those who have already watched The Case of Hana & Alice, hopefully this article has given you greater insight to some of the deeper meanings and themes explored in this masterpiece. I hope this has also inspired you to take a deeper look at the film and come up with your own interpretations of the film and what it all meant. Secondly, for those who have yet to see the film, I hope reading this article will allow you to get more out of your first watch keeping the themes I have described in mind. It can seem a bit random and odd first time around but as I have shown they’re far from it. Let me know in the comments below what your interpretations are, if you agree with me or feel I’ve missed some out.