I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Hanasaku Iroha: Home Sweet Home is not about the Kissuoiso. Unlike the TV series, in the movie the traditional ryokan moves to the foreground and the focus of the story falls on the three generations of Matsumae women, with an emphasis on Ohana’s mother, Satsuki. This shift in focus shuffles some cards and in doing so provides one of the less known characters in the Hanasaku Iroha universe some time to shine.
Taking place between episodes 22-24 of the TV series, Home Sweet Home finds an Ohana that is already used to her new life as a nakai in Kissuiso, but still doesn’t feel accomplished. By pure accident she finds an old series of work log books from the years when Satsuki was still a teenager living in Kissuiso. Through these books she discovers parts of her mother’s past she never knew about: the identity crisis Satsuki had when she was a child, how she fell in love with Ohana’s father and why she eventually ventured off to the remote Tokyo. These revelations help Ohana understand her mother better, and she is shocked to discover she shares more traits with her mother than she initially believed.
When watching the TV series I never felt the need to hear Satsuki’s story. She was the one that bailed; The outsider that left Kissuiso for good. Once I witnessed the story from Satsuki’s point of view though I realized she is one of the corner stones of Hanasaku Iroha; An essential part of the Kissuoiso puzzle that has impacted Ohana, Enishi and Sui (Ohana’s grandmother) in meaningful ways. Like Ohana, Satsuki also wanted to shine. To find a place where she belongs, to bloom on her own terms. She also decided to pursue a certain dream. One that would have her collide directly with her mother’s strong opinions and eventually led her to brave the world by herself. I never thought I’d like Satsuki, but by the time Home Sweet Home’s credits rolled I developed a deep appreciation for her, and a better understanding as to why she chose to leave Kissuiso behind.
Even though most of Home Sweet Home revolves around Satsuki’s past there are a few small scale present-day tidbits added here and there to tie the movie to the TV series. It’s nothing fancy. Just enough scenes to remind us of the series’ old magic and give the minor characters some screen time. Ren’s attempts to be hip and Yuina’s zany attitude are as charming as ever. There are also some less charming Tomoe moments. For some reason the creators of Hanasaku Iroha still believe making fun of single woman for the sake of her being single is funny. It is not.
As per usual Minko and Nako both receive considerable more attention. They both have issues they try to attend to in the movie. Minko has been doing her best to perfect some cookies skills, but still receives a cold shoulder from Tohru. Nako has a small family crisis when her parents go on a trip, leaving her alone to tend to her brothers and sister. Sadly unlike the TV series Minko and Nako’s scenes feel forced and quickly overstay their welcome. Satsuki’s past is so prominent and vivid that it easily foreshadows Minko and Nako’s daily worries. Their problems are just way too mundane, at times serving little more than filler for Satsuki’s story. It’s interesting how a simple change in focus made two of my favorite characters appear boring. On the other hand the different focus also makes Ohana’s grandmother Sui more likable than before. Her screen time is limited yet plays well to her strengths.
While not apparent from the get-go Home Sweet Home is delicately balanced to show the many ways in which Ohana, Satsuki and Sui impacted each other in both the past and present. Unlike the TV series it’s not a story about a place, but first and foremost about a family. The struggles for personal growth that we have become accustomed to see squarely from Ohana’s viewpoint is shown from a fresh perspective in Home Sweet Home throught the eyes of her mother. This seemingly trivial change present us with sides of Satsuki and Sui I never knew existed before. It’s a welcome addition to the series, a story that was needed to be told and will positively delight those who enjoyed the series beforehand.