October 23, 2014

Hanasaku Iroha

Ohana's mother runs off with her boyfriend (a step ahead of the debt collector) and sends Ohana to live with her grandmother, who owns an inn way out in the sticks. The grandmother is in no mood to play babysitter and promptly sets Ohana to work in the inn.

Ohana is the quintessential heroine of Japanese melodrama: can-do and relentless optimistic (to the point of driving her roommate bonkers). And yet Hanasaku Iroha manages to stay true to the core of its main characters, even at the cost of a happily-ever-after ending.

The grandmother had wanted Ohana's mother to take over the inn, but moving to the boonies is absolutely the last thing she has any interest in. The key dramatic arc in the series explores this irreconcilable conflict between the mother and grandmother.

So it's up to Ohana's uncle to manage the place. Except everybody knows--including himself--that he simply hasn't got the chops, even when joined by his MBA-grad girlfriend (incapable of uttering a sentence unadorned by incomprehensible American business jargon).

These nuts and bolts are treated with a light touch throughout, making Hanasaku Iroha an altogether pleasant comedy about running a small (failing) business in the country.

Along with the "how to" genre (how to run a hot springs inn),  Hanasaku Iroha also belongs to what I'd call the "wabi-sabi" genre. As Wikipedia defines it:

Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity), simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.

A more idealistic western counterpart might be the "Hudson River School," that paints the countryside with a sepia-tinted palette. As urban and rural Japan have grown further apart, that distance hasn't lent itself to cool objectivity but to exaggerated romanticism.

Nevertheless, Hanasaku Iroha comes to a bittersweet conclusion more closely aligned with the realities of modern Japan: things that can't go on forever won't, no matter how much positive mental energy is poured into them. Though there is always room for a sequel.

Hanasaku Iroha is streaming on Crunchyroll and Tubi.

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