Image source: Honey & Clover (manga and movie), H magazine (pictures by Kidera Norio)
We definitely live in a tough world, where the slightest detail of a local culture can nurture the obsession of people living 8000 miles away, thanks to Internet the beautiful. Do you know Mori girls? They’re Japanese, cute, girlish (no, this is not a pleonasm), dress like the little red riding hood, except they’re a little less red and their “hood” a little more urban; if Lolita fashion tastes too strong to you, you should like these rather natural outfits, in tune with a certain peace of mind that stressed out city people crave so much for. The thing is, living in Paris, I haven’t had a chance to meet a real one, yet. Lolitas, we know; Mori girls, too fresh. As far as I know, they could be a huge lie fed by the government, some gay E.T. trying to look natural to the human population, hippie crackheads eating tourists and field mice, or not even exist, who knows, that Photoshop thing’s got pretty useful, and these girls look unreal, too “kawaii” to be true. Or… it could also be everything that has been told to you yet here, leaving me only one choice: the cultural approach.
Being a movie buff and an opportunist, I could say that my first encounter with “Mori girliness”, albeit indirect, happened seven years ago, when I first saw Yû Aoi in a Japanese movie. The movie was “All about Lily Chou-Chou”, from Iwai Shunji (the one we owe the gigantic “Love Letter” to). Yû Aoi, born in 1985, was a teenager at that time, but she already had that sparkle that would make her the star she is now, and a… particular fashion icon. We could sum it up that way: youth, overflowing youth, but not the Macaulay Culkin kind, she already was a miss: the kind that last and outlive the wrinkles, laughing at these trifles. The second time I saw her was in the drama Koukou kiyoshi, the sequel of that famous tear-jerker of the early 90’s which had a handsome teacher sleeping with his immaculate and pantiless pupil. She played a villain: something was wrong. You can’t hate Yû! That’s why she got her best parts in the drama “Osen” (shallow but delightful), in “Shaking Tokyo”, a stunning segment of the triptych “Tokyo!” where she plays a narcoleptic pizza delivery girl, or in… “Honey & Clover”, a movie made from an animated series adapted from a manga inspired by all the bittersweet flavors of the world.
“Honey & Clover” tells the story of five youngsters (three males, two females) studying in the same art school, going through graduation, having a hard time fitting into society, and cultivating their friendship over everything else, despite miscommunication, mishaps, bad jokes, and unrequited love. And guess what? It seems that “Honey & Clover” gave birth to the hamster inspiration for Mori fashion, Hanamoto Hagumi, Hagu for friends. Now, I write “hamster” not because I like to call Japanese girls that way, my feminism would be deeply hurt; but because the manga and the animated series… just keep comparing her to our fluffy little fellas, for humoristic purpose. No, Hachikuro (contraction of Hachimitsu and kurovâ) is not one of these dumb and sometimes hysterical animated series Japanese people love to make, like Azumanga Daiô or Abenobashi Mahô Shotengai. Well, of course it has its moments. But what mangaka Umino Chika brought to life is closer to bittersweet masterpieces like Anno Hideaki’s KareKano, with the same ability to switch from extreme delirium to the highest level of emotional intensity.
In Hachikuro, Hagu, a tiny blonde with huge blue eyes who looks like a twelve years old girl but is actually eighteen at the beginning, is kind of the mascot, stealing the show from day one with her little puppy noise and her “off track”, apathetic attitude. She’s at the same time the greatest incarnation of what the show tells us about the artistic creation process, the funniest character of all (her introduction in a train bound for Tokyo gives a nice preview of her burlesque), AND the pure love interest of the main character – if there’s gotta be one –, the rookie Takemoto.
Without Hagu, Hachikuro would have been a great piece of animation, meaningful, insightful, mesmerized by its inspired directing by Kasai Ken’ichi, and its instant-cult soundtrack led by the popular rock band Spitz (listening to songs like Yoru wo kakeru, Pool, Je t’aime, or the epic Namida should be enough). With Hagu, the show becomes driven, like Nolan’s Dark Knight with its Joker character: it has something unique, a character that symbolizes Art, the bridge between mankind and heaven, thanks to Hagu’s immaculate child’s heart. And that uniqueness is worth all the sophisticate writings of the world. Luckily, Hachikuro gets both: the look, and the brains.
Hachikuro was a best-seller in the bookshops and a hit on TV, and “live” versions, a movie followed by a TV drama, were expected. Sad idea: the animated series should have been its ultimate form, because all the graphic frenzy of its humor, and all the depth of its characters animation (see the eyes of Hagu when she cries, a real expressionist piece of art), were inexpressible with real actors in real settings. Plus, the live Hachikuro has got all the major flaws of any Japanese trendy movie/drama about youth: uninspired directing, useless voice-over, shallow metaphysic, forced acting, end credits song by some Johnny’s boys band. But the movie has Yû-chan, a sort of reinvention of kawainess, maybe the only actress able to play Hagu-chan, over the drama, which has pretty much nothing of that sort (and doesn’t bear comparison with Fuji TV 2002 hit Tentai Kansoku, in the same category).
There’s gotta be some astral connection between the little actress and Mori fashion. “To make a prairie, it takes one clover and one bee”, used to say American poet Emily Dickinson. It didn’t take much effort for Mori fashion to emerge; it came naturally, as if it was called by 21st century girls in need of fresh air, of loose layers, of “relaxed” womanliness, far from the oppressive Victorian style and modern standards, without looking boyish. Hachikuro, with its close group of friends gathering around the fatherly figure of their teacher Hanamoto (Hagu’s uncle), feed some hippie fantasy about paradise lost; the movie goes further by creating Hanamoto’s house, the regained paradise, where anyone in the group can come and go as he or she pleases. It’s only natural that the manga inspired Mori fashion designer craving for freedom, wide open spaces, and a return to a “little house on the prairie” kind of innocence. It’s only natural that kawainess (mori) called kawainess (Aoi). As Zen eulogists like to say, everything is connected. The “mori trail” will sure lead us to some unexpected place.
Author: Alexandre Martinazzo