If you watched the Hanasaku Iroha TV series you know pretty much what to expect from “Home Sweet Home”. In fact, the transition from the series is so seamless that it sort of has the effect of making it seem like the TV ending never happened – which is kind of a shame, because the ending was one of the better things about it. The Kissuiso is running as if nothing ever happened, Ohana’s relationship with Kouichi is a total no-show, it’s gorgeous, and the well-crafted emotional conflicts are sometimes overplayed to the point of unintentional self-satire. In other words, HanaIro.
The upshot of all this is that I suspect your view of the movie is going to very closely mirror your view of the series – and in my case, that means a story that does some things wonderfully and drives me crazy just as often. Mind you, there are subtle thematic changes from the TV here. If I were to sum it up, I’d say the TV series was basically about showing about how Ohana was like her Grandmother, and the movie is about showing how she’s like her mother. In fact if it had spent more time exploring that topic specifically, I think it would have been much better off.
In that vein, I would have preferred it if the bulk of the film had been taken up with the back-story of Satsuki and of Ohana’s father Ayato (Takeuchi Ryouta) who we finally get to meet. He’s a photographer staying at the inn who takes an interest (some might say a bit too much) in Satsuki as a model. She falls in love with him, he manages to capture her radiance even if she can’t believe it herself, and eventually she follows him to Tokyo and you-know-what happens, leading to you-know-who. The whole parallel with the “I want to shine” thing is pretty heavy-handed, but these are good scenes – sadly, there are very few of them in the movie. Satsuki isn’t a very good mother but she’s certainly an interesting character, and Itou Kanae is fantastic in the role.
Most of the stuff in the present is pretty routine, and could have been from any episode in the second cour of the TV series. The subplot with Nako’s family is downright saccharine, Okada at her most excessive, and if anything annoys me it’s when people who should know better fall all over themselves rewarding a young child for being a miserable brat and causing trouble, as Nako’s sister does here. Minko has a very standard subplot involving her insecurity in the kitchen, and Kissuiso has a very standard crisis involving a power outage that goes on longer than it should. The best part about the scenes in the present is their bridge to the past – which happens when Ohana finds a box of Mame-jii’s journals after Yuina (on a special training assignment at the Inn) knocks them over. And I certainly won’t complain about Yuina, who can’t be on-screen without being a blast.
For my money the best things about HanaIro in terms of narrative are Ohana’s relationship with Kouichi, the way it connects the three generations of her family, and the overall atmosphere it manages to create. The first is a whiff here, but the second is a major theme when Okada doesn’t drown it out with her usual noise. The constant is the world-building – Yunosagi and Kissuiso feel like real and well-defined places. Okada’s writing is part of that, but so is Ando Masahiro’s direction and especially the art and animation. That’s the real best part of HanaIro for me – even by P.A. Works’ lofty standards, HanaIro is beautiful. It’s not always easy to describe what it is that makes P.A. Works so exceptional in terms of visuals, but for me it’s the difference between animation as art and animation as craft, and that’s on full display in Home Sweet Home just as it always is in HanaIro. When it comes to visuals there are studios that turn out technically superior anime, but none for my money that exceed P.A. Works in terms of expression, vision and emotional resonance. If this series has a legacy, for me it’s that it ranks as possibly the studio’s finest achievement in art and animation.