Life in the row houses of Edo delves into the smaller stories of numerous people living there in Hana.
What They Say
What happens when those charged with taking life begin to cherish it?
The year is 1702. Peace has settled over the squalor of Edo and the swords of the once-mighty samurai have been sheathed across Japan. In an era when dogs are more esteemed than the colorful peasants that inhabit the slums, Soza, a young warrior better with books than blades, is on a quest to avenge his murdered father and restore honor to his family name.
As the blood debt looms, sensitive Soza must decide: to kill or not to kill? Amidst growing love, shattered honor and the simple beauty of the cherry blossom, Hana celebrates the joys of even the most difficult of lives.
The language mix for this release is kind of unusual in that we get the original Japanese 5.1 language, encoded at 448kbps, but the English language mix wasn’t done in 5.1 but rather a straightforward 192kbps stereo mix. Usually it occurs the other way around, both with live action and with anime, so it’s something of a surprise here. Not that Hana really requires a 5.1 mix since it’s largely a dialogue piece and a forward soundstage one at that with little going to the rears. Beyond some mild incidental action here and there, the forward soundstage is where all the action is and the dialogue is nicely placed and has a good sense of depth to it. Dubbed live action movies aren’t something that I can stomach so we didn’t check out that side beyond a minute or two. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally in theaters in 2006, the transfer for this feature film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Hana has a very distinct look to it because of the setting and it really comes across very well here with its dark and grimy look of those living in the row houses. Everyone is dirty and the film has that kind of rough feel to it, but not one filled with grain and looking bad. The transfer captures the look and feel of it very well with a good amount of depth to it. The colors are suitably muted, but when they need to be strong, such as Osae’s white kimono during the play in the festival, it’s very striking as it stands out. Colors look good throughout and it has a very welcome film-like feel without coming across as overly grainy.
The cover design for Hana reflects a certain simplicity to things, though this is from one of the briefest segments of the film as the bulk of it takes place in the row houses. The cover does look appealing with its tranquility as it has a couple of the leading men sitting next to the water with lots of green around them, which is nicely reflected in the water. Adding the hazy white to the top to balance it off and add more softness to it is rather nicely done as well. The back cover keeps to the white feel with a soft close-up shot of a cherry blossom tree with Soza along the left with the mask over his face. The bulk of the cover is given over to the summary of the film as well as a few shots in a strip near the bottom. The remainder is standard production and technical grid information that conveys the basics easily enough.
The menu design for the film is very simple and somewhat of an unusual choice as it features Soza with his head covered as he seeks out the subject of his vengeance. It has him to the left while the wood row house he’s close to is taking up the right half of the screen which is also where the navigation is. It looks a bit unusual because of the outfit he’s wearing and that it’s a close-up, especially after having such a far away shot for the cover design itself. The navigation is straightforward overall and moving about is quite easy, especially if you’re familiar with FUNimation’s releases. The disc correctly read our players’ language presets and defaulted to Japanese with English subtitles.
The only extra included here is a brief three minute piece from when the film opened and several of the cast members did a “stage greeting” session at one location. It’s interesting to see them looking a bit cleaner that we get to know them in the film, but there’s little to it overall.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Released in 2006, Hana is an unusual choice for a live action feature film from FUNimation to release. Most of what they’ve picked up for live action releases tend to be a bit more action oriented, such as Shinobi, but Hana is very much a near slice of life film about a group of people living in a series of row houses in Edo back in 1702. It’s a very laid back film with small stories intermingling with the main one about revenge. As everyone goes about their lives and has to deal with the hardships they face, the smaller stories start to reveal themselves and play out against each other.
The central character and storyline of Hana is about a young man named Sozaemon, known better simply as Soza, as he spends his days in the row house. He’s left his home to come to Edo in order to avenge his father who was killed by a man with a large red scar on his face. It’s been a year since he left home to come here to deal with this for the family and he’s had no luck in finding him. His search continues, but it’s not a search that he’s entirely engaged in because he was never a very good swordsman. His father had taught him over the years, but he never quite came around to it and was instead more interested in the simpler things such as teaching and engaging with others. Soza spends his days in the row house simply getting along with everyone.
While Soza has been charged with the task of vengeance by his father, he’s not truly enthused by it. He keeps up with the duty assigned to him, but the family back home is getting restless and they begin to misunderstand what’s going on when they visit him. His life in the row houses is simple, but when they see that he’s slowly gotten closer to a widow there and her son, they begin to wonder about his seriousness in the matter. This comes at a time when Soza does actually find his target, only to discover that the man is almost like himself in that he’s a father figure for a young boy, isn’t terribly interested in violence an lives in near poverty like everyone else in the row houses. Soza wants to deal with this without violence, partly because he knows that if he does fight him, he’ll likely lose.
With that as the back drop to the storyline, Hana spreads the rest of the film dealing with all sorts of little character stories. Soza is there as the eyes of the audience, participating in various events but mostly simply watching as life goes on here. The story of the widow is nicely done as Soza befriends her more and more and begins to understand why her son is waiting for his father to come back, but also just how much the son knows. There are those that help Soza in his search and spend time drinking or play Go with him, as well as others who have very thin threads of connection such as one man whose former fiancé suddenly turns up as the wife of the landlord. The most amusing of the characters is Mago, a man whose principle job is maintaining the outhouse which sells its waste to the farmers. He’s fun to watch because he’s got this sort of slight disconnect with the world going on as he tries to be involved but often does little more than bounce up and down.
A few events do shape things along the way to give the film a bit more structure. One of the early ones is when the group talks about putting on their play at the festival, something that can get them a little extra money. There’s practice going on with that and people figuring out their roles, but it also takes an amusing turn when it goes into action. The other main event of the film comes with the landlord who has decided that since everyone is so late, he’s going to tear them all down and build a new series of row houses to rent to new people that may actually pay. That gives things a little bit of drama, and puts everyone into a position where they need to come up with a real solution. But none of these events dominate the film as the central focus is usually around what Soza is seeing and feeling.
With a runtime of just over two hours, Hana is a relaxed diversion from things but not a film that will leave any real lasting memory. Of all the films that FUNimation could have experimented with, I can’t imagine why this one was chosen other than it was someone’s favorite. It’s not a bad film in the slightest, but it’s not one that’s going to gain much appeal in general outside of some potential art house critics who just want something different. The cast all give good performances, the kids are surprisingly good and the settings reflect the situation well. But there isn’t anything that really captures you with it or leaves you with a strong impression or memory.
Japanese 5.1 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Opening Day Stage Greeting
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.