Live-action adaptations of popular manga/anime dramas rarely turn out alright. The danger of producing something quick and cheap (because fans will turn up anyway) is always lurking right behind the corner. But there are exceptions to every rule and Honey And Clover lovers better take notice, the live-action adaptation of their favorite manga/anime is one that takes its fanbase serious. A rarity that should be cherished.
I never really watched or read anything "Honey And Clover"-related before. I was aware of its existence but it's not the type of anime that I regularly watch. This makes it quite impossible for me to judge whether the film remains true to its original story, but it does put me in a position where I can safely say that laymen should not worry, you don't need much background information to get into the film. Maybe a little frustrating for hardcore fans who were hoping for a continuation of previous story arcs (maybe even a completely new arc), but that's just the way it is.
Honey And Clover follows a group of young art school student well on their way to maturity. It's essentially a simple coming of age drama that differentiates itself from its peers with its rather unique setting. The film is mostly interested in first love, friendship and individual exploration of one's own self (nothing new there), but as it is set in a more liberating school environment it does feel quite different from other Japanese school dramas.
The film follows a group of 5 students. One trio where two boys circle around a genius girl painter, one duo where unrequited love constitutes the main course. In typical light-hearted drama fashion, things look up, trouble ensues and by the end of the film the youngsters have learned a value life lesson. This is hardly a spoiler, Honey And Clover isn't a film that tries very hard to bring a refreshing or unique story, it's a film more interested in the emotional life of its protagonists.
Visually Takada does a pretty nice job, though there's nothing much to awe you right out of your chair. The camera work is clean and functional, the key scenes in the film received some extra attention and there are some quirky visual details (what's up with the animated cat?), but overall Takada plays it quite safe. It's a pretty decent film to look at, just don't expect to be dazzled.
At first glance the soundtrack appears just as safe as the visuals (actually quite hard to contest this) but for some reason the subtle score does manage to evoke more emotions. Very well timed and sporting some very nice tunes, Takada draws a lot of power from the music to heighten the impact of the film's key scenes. A nice reminder that a classic soundtrack can work wonders if executed well.
The film is carried by its five main characters, a pretty impressive selection of young talent. With actors like Aoi and Kase quality is assured, but the remaining three easily match their level. Iseya in particular makes quite a smashing appearance, playing the least agreeable character of the five, but arguably also the most interesting one. Together with Aoi he forms a pretty unique screen couple.
Honey And Clover isn't very revolutionary, not does it bring anything you haven't seen before. But what it shows it does so with great conviction. It dwells on the beauty of being young and manages to lock down this feeling in more than a few scenes. One scene in particular (on the beach - how Japanese is that) feels like a melancholic throwback to an ideal vision of youth. Beautiful scene that illustrates the core power of this film perfectly.
If you're into Japanese dramas this film is a solid recommendation. Get yourself past possible reservations of the film's source and let Takada and his cast transport you a lost era of youth and discovery. If you are at ease with the simple clichés of the genre there is plenty of beauty to be found here. If you're not really familiar with Japanese dramas yet, it's a good entry film, pretty accessible yet boasting all the typical genre elements.
Honey And Clover is a nice, solid genre entry that sinks you comfortable to the back of the couch, letting a feeling of warmth and melancholy slip over you. There are no weak points, nor awe-inspiring landmark moments, only a few bursts of subtle genius, making this film worth the trouble to track down. Definitely recommended.