On HANASAKU IROHA
The story of Hanasaku Iroha is almost ridiculously simple. A young girl named Ohana, thanks to the irresponsible behavior of her mother, is sent to an inn out in the country to spend her days. This inn is run by Ohana’s grandmother. But she isn’t a cozy grandma who’s going to spoil Ohana. She’s all business, all work, almost cold; and her coworkers are all rather ambivalent about Ohana, too. And although it does feel rather depressing at first, the beauty of this show (and of Ohana) is that, rather than get overwhelmed and feel miserable about her situation, she tries her best to make this place her own. She tries to take a situation that seems bad, and not so much find the positive, but rather tries to find a way to grow from it. The series is then about her growth as a person, the way in which she learns to find meaning in the work she does, the way in which she learns that she’s not the center of everything happens; it’s one of the finest portraits of a young woman I’ve ever seen in any visual media.
There’s a great line near the end of the series that handily summarizes a lot of what I thought was going on in this series: “what you gain from hard work can never betray you.” Time and time again the characters in the series strive to become better at their jobs. Whether it’s Ohana’s struggles to find her own routine and her own place, or Minchi’s struggles to learn the trade of being a chef or, hell, Ohana’s uncle struggle to become good enough to one day become the true successor to the inn – the characters in this series define themselves by how they do their job. Their job performance seems interconnected with their personal growth, but it’s also connected with their character – if I’m not working my hardest, what kind of person am I?
There’s a telling episode about halfway in the show’s run where the main trio of girls visit another inn for a school trip. The inn apparently has a new automated system for taking plates up and down the floors; this saves time and it does away with having full-time waitresses so the inn has some part-timers to do the work. Ohana is at first impressed with the work that everyone’s doing, but then she sees some of the waitresses talking on their phone while still at work, and of course they’re typical “high school” girls who have an attitude. Later on, these girls walk off the job because they say it’s too hard and you have to remember too many things. These girls, because of their unserious attitude toward their job, are painted as bratty monsters (later on we see them all wearing makeup and making fun of the inn of where they worked at). In Hanasaku Iroha, if you’re not trying to do your best, then that reflects badly on your character. In one of the funniest scenes in the show, Ohana more or less attacks them. Ohana only has patience for people who are trying their best, every character in Hanasaku Iroha is giving it their all.
This series reminded me of one of the most overlooked movies of the past few years, Margaret. One of the most important lines of dialogue in that film is: “We are not supporting characters in the fascinating story of your life!” During the first few episodes, Ohana is only concerned about what is happening to her. She sees the situation she’s in as hers alone, and she kinda steps on a few toes around the inn as she struggles to acclimate herself to this new place. She even gets called out as “inconsiderate,” at one point. One of key themes in the show is realizing that everyone around has their reasons (as in Renoir), their own beliefs, their own dreams. The great realization later on in the show where she learns to actually place herself in someone else’s shoes (first with her mom and then later on with her grandma) is so fantastic. She’s such a strong-willed girl that for her to give in and rescind her original feelings is marvelous.
I can’t write about this show without also mentioning how much it understands how impermanence of life. The show spans roughly 6 or 7 months. In this period of time, all the characters grow and are shaded with depth and are fully realized. But the reason why the time we’ve spent with these characters is special is because it’s something that’s untenable. People are destined to move away from you, your group of friends won’t always be there in the same exact configuration that you’re used to; things will always end. What Hanasaku Iroha understands most of all is that things are meant to change; it can be a positive change, it can be a negative change, whichever. Late in the show’s run, Ohana’s grandmother makes a decision that disrupts the natural order of what we’ve been watching for the last 20 or so episodes. She forces a change in these characters’ lives. Now, we may want these characters to remain the same way, like in Ranma ½, and never deviate, always acting out the same patterns of behavior, but that betrays a misunderstanding of how life actually works. We’re all working toward our own goals, and sooner or later, we might have to go our separate ways. The places that meant so much to us might become a memory, an important one, sure, but something that was not meant to last. Hanasaku Iroha feels like that. It’s a series that reminds me how much pain and how much laughter are required before you can truly grow.
How To Find It
NIS America has the license for this series. The first Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack was released in April. The second will be released in July. You can also stream the entire series on Crunchyroll.
Hanasaku Iroha (2011)