Honey & Clover
Two types of artistic genius
by Lizzi Wolf
Honey & Clover (Masahiro Takada, 2006) is a romantic comedy about two unrequited-love triangles among students in a Japanese school of art. In the central love triangle, Takemoto (Sho Sakurai), the "least arty" of the students, is in love with Hagu (Yu Aoi), who is in love with Morita (Yusuke Iseya--who is in love with himself. Both Hagu and Morita are regarded by students and faculty alike as geniuses. Yet they embody two opposing attitudes towards creative talent: Hagu is naive, humble, and idealistic, while Morita is arrogant, egotistical, and prematurely jaded.
Morita, an eighth-year student with no plans to graduate, is invited to open a solo show at a prestigious local gallery. The gallery owners remind him that "this is business" and that his work is "a product." Morita is well aware of this; regarding the cute winged-bunny figurines he seems to make by the dozen, he comments, "that's the crap that sells all over the world." The centerpiece of Morita's show is a giant wooden sculpture, carved with a chainsaw, called Hole-Ridden Tree. Hagu points out that he overworked the sculpture, and Morita agrees that he ruined it but places it in the show anyway because, basically, he is too lazy and indifferent to redo it. Hole-Ridden Tree sells for five million yen, and Morita is celebrated on a trendy television news show.
Hagu, by contrast, is an abstract painter of large, brightly colored canvases in a time when "abstracts aren't hot." Professor Koda (Ginpuncho) encourages Hagu to enter a prestigious international art contest but warns her to stop painting abstracts--she will be "crushed by the weight of her own talent," Koda warns, if she tries to fight the trends in the art market. "I've seen so many talented artists disappear through recklessness and willfulness," the prof laments. Professor Hanamoto (Masato Sakai), on the other hand, values Hagu's naive commitment to pure art: "Once in a while, let them dream for all of us," he suggests.
Morita kisses Hagu on a whim and then ignores her, she falls into a creative slump, getting so depressed that she won't eat, hardly talks, and can bring herself to paint only a giant all-black canvas. It takes a dramatic, selfless artistic statement by Morita to lift Hagu out of her slump--a statement demonstrating that (hint: this is the moral of the film) a capacity for compassion and the spirit of giving are essential to the creative process and to maintaining one's artistic integrity.
Honey & Clover is at Lorch Hall on July 31 as part of the U-M Center for Japanese Studies Summer 2009 Film Series.
[Originally published in July, 2009.]