Based on the hit Japanese
comic by Chika Umino, Honey and Clover is the
latest entry in a long line of Japanese manga adaptations.
More in the vein of Nana than Death Note,
Honey and Clover is far easier to adapt because
of its down-to-earth subject matter: the lives of
five art university students and their romantic complications.
Directed by anime veteran Masahiro Takada in his feature
debut, Honey and Clover features a charming
cast and an oddly amusing screenplay, but does it
have enough to draw newcomers such as myself?
As far as I know (I've never
read the comic nor watched the anime), the basic story
of the Honey and Clover film adaptation has
been slightly changed. Takemoto (Sho Sakurai of boy
band Arashi) is an art student under the tutelage
of Professor Hanamoto, whose parties brings him and
art students Mayama (Ryo Kase) and Yamada (Megumi
Seki) together. At a party in the opening scene, Takemoto
is introduced to Hagu (Yu Aoi), Hanamoto's cousin's
daughter, who recently entered the school on a scholarship,
whereupon Takemoto falls instantly in love.
However, trouble occurs in
the form of Takemoto's neighbor Morita, a popular,
talented, and temperamental older student who has
just returned from a long trip. Morita is instantly
impressed by Hagu's abstract paintings, and Hagu,
in turn, begins to admire Morita's sculpting skills.
Meanwhile, Yamada has become infatuated with Mayama.
However, Mayama himself is hopelessly in love with
his boss Rika, even to the point of stalking her and
collecting objects of hers. Even when Mayama outright
rejects Yamada, she remains head-over-heels in love
with him for some inexplicable reason. The five come
together for Morita's gallery opening, but an impulsive
trip to the beach threatens to change a few things
about their lives...
Much like its source material,
Honey and Clover is more concerned with romance
than it is with satire of its art school setting,
and that's OK for some. Takada obviously cares about
the source material enough to make changes that allow
the adaptation to stand on its own. But without the
potential bite that the film might have possessed
as a satire, it's hard to see what the appeal of the
film is those who aren't already fans of the original
comic. Considering Mayama's creepier aspects, it's
never quite apparent what Yamada sees in him. Despite
Takemoto's role as the protagonist, he's the weakest
character in the film. Honey and Clover sometimes
seems like it could be a character piece, but there's
not much character development in the script (which
Takada also co-wrote), nor is there much of a plot
to drive the characters themselves.
are things to like about Honey and Clover - even for an outsider like me. The occasional humor
may seem jarring even for a dramedy, but much of it
works and adds amusing moments to the overlong script.
Yu Aoi rightfully earns her Best Actress award (for
her performances in both Honey and Clover and Hula Girls) at the Blue Ribbon awards,
giving the best performance out of the five main actors
as the shy and talented Hagu. Unlike Aoi's previous
role in Hana and Alice, Hagu is a more difficult
character to play, and Aoi injects just the right
amount of shyness and cuteness to create a character
that is likable instead of eccentric to an annoying
From what I've read about Honey and Clover, it's really a story about
the passing days of youth - and I've even read that
the story has been life-changing for some people.
Unfortunately, Takada sticks mostly to the romance
aspect of the story. While the love triangles in Honey
and Clover can be affecting, I wonder if that's
what college life is all about. Romance seems to have
a real impact on these characters' lives, as it can
affect their careers and even their art. This may
be how Takada handles the film's manga origins, but
it clashes with the film's down-to-earth stylistic
approach. Honey and Clover is a serviceable
teen romance flick with satisfying performances and
enough humor to keep the proceedings interesting.
However, underneath it all, it's also a little empty.
(Kevin Ma 2007)