Masahiro Takeda’s debut film Honey and Clover (based on the popular Japanese Manga by Chica Umino), follows the lives of five young art students over the course of one year. The main themes of the film are love and rejection, and we see the five students confront these issues in the hopes that they will one day have the peace and comfort of a stable and loving relationship.
Takemoto (Sho Sakurai) is a young and naïve student who seems to have a very idealistic and romantic outlook on life and love. During a birthday party for one of his Professors, Takemoto meets and instantly falls in love with Hagu (Aoi Yu), a very talented (and very cute) young girl who is new to the school and is also the professors niece. Later in the scene we are introduced to another female student named Ayumi (Megumi Seki) who is love with another male student named Mayama (Ryo Kase) who in turn is in love with Rika (Naomi Nishida) an older woman who is the supervisor at his job. Mayama’s obsession with Rika has driven him to the point where he follows her home from work on a daily basis, has created a shrine of sorts for her in his room, and hallucinates about being accosted by the police for his unusual behavior. Likewise, Ayumi follows Mayama as he follows Rika, suggesting that she is fully aware that he is in love with another woman, which makes her quest for Mayama’s love bleak and equally as awkward as Mayama’s attraction with Rika. As the film progresses the fifth student Morita returns to the university after a five year hiatus. Morita’s artistic ability is widely recognized and admired by the other students, and his artistry makes an impression on the shy and reserved Hagu, much to the dismay of the love stricken Takemoto. Throughout the film the characters struggle with their emotions and we slowly see the students begin to withdraw and break down as their feelings for their respective love interest are not reciprocated. By the conclusion of the film the characters come to the realization that although they may not have attained the love and respect that they desired from the other individuals, they have found something far more important, comfort and enlightenment within themselves and the courage to confront and express their emotions freely.
The film uses the setting of the Art University as a reflection for the journey that the characters make in the film. The characters are all students of art in the same sense that they are students of love; because of this the characters are naïve enough to think that they can paint or sculpt the perfect relationship or realistically obtain the perfect partner. This device works very well in this film and provides a clever visual parallel to the implied themes in the film. The picture is brilliantly shot, with the lighting, shadows and scene compositions mimicking the artistic tone of the film.
The film supposedly attempts to be as faithful as possible to the source material, if this is the case; it proves to be one of the film’s biggest flaws. The depth and substance of characters that are needed to captivate the readers of a graphic novel, or those watching a 26 episode animated series are not the same as those needed for a live-action feature film. The characters in the film are very stale and rarely speak; when they do, they usually reiterate lines and readdress emotions that were previously stated. The film is very redundant and seems to rely more on visual implications to motivate progress rather than allowing a stable narrative to tell the story. Because of the lack of any genuine interaction between the main characters the film can at times be a bore, and at two hours the film drags on a half an hour longer than necessary.
Of all of the characters Morita is the most interesting, providing comic relief and being the catalyst for a lot of the emotional tension between Takemoto and Hagu. Ironically the character of Morita is older than the other four students and is much more mature and knowledgeable on the nature of love and relationships. By making Morita the focal point of the films most intense moments, the director seems to contradict the coming-of-age theme that he laid out at he film’s start. Honey and Clover is far from a great film but it is a simple visual treat that will appease those looking for a heartwarming, cute, and quirky experience.
Weak: 1 Star Average: 2 Stars Good: 3 Stars Very Good: 4 Stars Excellent: 5 Stars