Based upon Ai Yawaza’s manga, first serialised in 1999 through Cookie, Nana tells the story of two unlikely souls who, as fate would have it, become the best of friends. When Nana Komatsu (Aoi Miyazaki) takes a train to Tokyo in order to start a new life with her boyfriend Shoji (Yuuta Hiraoka) she ends up sitting next to a young, leather-clad woman who appears to be too cool for school, and she probably is. Her name is Nana Osaki (Mika Nakashima) - a budding rock vocalist formerly of “The Black Stones” - which soon sparks off a conversation between the two. As she leaves the train Komatsu loses sight of Osaki; disappointed she carries on, trying to make a life for herself and Shoji, until he asks of her to become more independent. This prompts her to go searching for an apartment and she manages to find a ridiculously cheap one, but lo and behold, just as she’s expressing her interest Osaki turns up to check out the place too. After briefly deliberating they decide to share it, and so sets up the beginning of their relationship. Osaki is soon visited by her ex band mates Nobu (Hiroki Narimiya) and Yasu (Tomoki Maruyama), who convince her to start up a new band. When Osaki’s ex-boyfriend and former “Black Stones” bassist Ren (Ryuhei Matsuda) travels to Tokyo to tour with his new band “TRAPNEST” Osaki tries harder than ever to chase her dream and fulfil her sense of pride. With Nana and Nana living under the same roof it’s only a matter of time before each begin to discover more about themselves and those around.
Having covered just about every known media format, from comic books and multiple CDs to video games and movie adaptations during the course of the last six years, Nana’s success has been nothing short of phenomenal. Today the manga still thrives and it seemingly has yet to show any signs of slowing down. I have to confess at this point that I have never read the manga, and I’m willing to bet that very few people outside of Asia have been enjoying this series on quite the same level as the Japanese. Going into Nana on a more casual stance is an easy task then; there’s no sense of trepidation, wondering if it does its source material justice. Quite frankly I don’t know if it deviates from its original publication or if it’s a rousing success. What I can tell you is that in this world of ever profusely flowing romantic dramas and teen angst tales Nana is a fairly solid addition. Of course we must take into account that the film is a starting point, with a sequel already in the planning stages, and so I don’t imagine that Nana - the film - can possibly cover anywhere near as much ground as the series of books undoubtedly has. I’m actually somewhat surprised that Yazawa’s creation hasn’t been adapted into an anime or TV drama, though at this stage I wouldn’t be surprised if we see either at some point. With that said we still end up with something that concludes on a nice note, not necessarily claiming itself to be a prelude to later events, and I imagine that prior to its theatrical run there was no such intent for expansion.
Nana is first and foremost a Shoujo comic. This means that for all intents it’s geared toward a young female audience. These comics are usually stereotypical affairs, filled with plenty of melodrama and sappiness, and so presumably the film would have equally amounted to much. Judging the film, however, it seems as if Yazawa was onto something more. The most immediate standout is its sense of style, something that Japan has always managed to embrace on some bizarre level, from the swinging sixties up to more recent times that have seen Ganguro girls take the streets of Tokyo by storm. I’m not quite sure how to categorise Nana’s appearance however; it’s a fusion of Western and Asian ideas that can be identified by just about any viewer in some form or another. Certainly they’re exciting and lavish and manage to individualise each player, giving a strong insight into their various lifestyles; Nana Komatsu dresses prim and proper as if to suggest an upper class citizen, yet she’s from a humble background and carries the most bubbly and infectious personality that we could ever wish to see, whereas Nana Osaki and the few friends around her inhabit more typical garments that are readily associated with the rock music that they play, i.e. lots of leather. And then there are various supporting characters that range from wearing patchwork threads or casual jumpers and jeans, to semi-Rastafarians and cow-girls. Indeed Nana has a visual flair that immediately separates it from some of the modern efforts of late, but that’s not the only thing that it excels at in being a little wayward.
Yazawa presents us with two girls who are linked by a single number, that being seven (Nana). Not only do they share the same name, they also end up living in an apartment numbered 707. Of course what goes on to be prevailing is the sheer number of amazing coincidences that take place from start to finish. People often say that the world is a small place and in Nana it most certainly rings truer than ever: Nana and Nana first meet on a train, they separate and meet in the same apartment by chance; Nana Komatsu’s boyfriend Shoji is an art student studying oils, who meets a new girl at his work place who also just happens to be an art student specialising in oils, while later Komatsu just so happens to win a pair of front row tickets to see Ren’s new band TRAPNEST! Director Kentaro Otani helms his biggest hit to date with a keen sense of pacing, which is remarkable given how much actually hits us onscreen. Despite these glaring plot devices Otani manages to weave them together very well, while still finding time to flesh out his protagonists. He does so by first of all telling us the story through Nana Komatsu’s point of view, as foretold via a narration. Nana Osaki on the other hand is explored through a series of flashbacks, which we see during her quieter moments of reflection. This makes things a little more interesting for the viewer, as neither character is able to fully open up to one another until much later on; what’s important is that above all they care for each other in their own way and provide the necessary space that they require. Still, Otani is left with the dilemma of choosing who to focus on and when. As we approach the final thirty minutes much of Nana concentrates on Osaki, whereas just about a full hour prior sees Komatsu deal with problems brought on by her loved ones and herself. Although the title is Nana, which presumably signifies both characters, the film comes across as a main focal point for Osaki, largely due to Komatsu’s narration which heaps praise upon the friend that helped in turning her life around, though we definitely see that in the end both have become pillars of support for one another.
Nana could be classed as a celebration of having ambitions and taking the chances that are handed to you. Two of its main driving points are the aforementioned relationship studies and the dominant usage of music. Here the lives of everybody involved are waiting to be turned around by the one thing that they all share in common, that being such enthusiasm for rock and roll. Nana quickly demonstrates the true power of song as Mike Nakashima belts out “Glamorous Sky”, while Yuna Ito – in her debut – wistfully sings “Endless Story”. With these being the film’s main signature pieces Otani does well to utilise them as essential narrative devices, both having a strong emotional resonance when pitted with the central characters; rather than rely on potentially fatal and melodramatic music cues we have powerful anthems that challenge the viewer’s senses and ultimately bring home a greater sense of fulfilment, especially when witnessing each respective character’s reaction to said music as we learn above all that it’s everything that they live for.
Crucial to Nana’s success are the performances from its two leads. Aoi Miyazaki approaches her role with plenty of sincerity, after all her Nana is the audiences’ gateway into the film. Her narration is appropriately delivered, illustrating key points throughout, while keeping to a respectable minimum, whilst onscreen she imbues her character with a great zest for life; her bubbly, not overly bright, yet sweet persona makes for a likeable character, despite the inherent flaws that has seen loved ones distance themselves from her. Miyazaki is an actor who can instantly win over an audience, with a smile that’s enough to make the viewer feel safe and cosy. As an initial contrast Mika Nakashima’s Nana is an introverted, laid back soul who bottles up her emotions by masking them with her outwardly appearance. Though her style is part of who she is Osaki uses it as an extra means to shut herself out, maintaining a cool façade that her boyfriend Ren also employs in order to give himself a better reputation, whilst the reality is that she envies her new friend in many ways, and vice versa. Nakashima who I know best for being a pop singer has often experimented in the past, from catchy numbers to ballads and even adding extra spice in the form of jazz for a couple of numbers. In Nana she’s given an opportunity to branch out and go the rock route with numbers being penned from superstars such as HYDE, which allows her powerful vocals to extend beyond what she might be best known for doing. In both respects, as a singer first and foremost and an actor, Nakashima puts in a very commendable performance and between herself and Miyazaki a heart-warming relationship is formed. The rest of the cast make do with what they have; most notably perhaps is Ryuhei Matsuda as Ren (son of the late Yusaku) who isn’t given much more to do than look broody, though he does keep things largely understated, while the energetic Nobu, played by Hiroki Narimiya (who looks like he belongs in a band) elicits a positive, outgoing vibe which helps to keep his friends close. Above all the casting is inspired, with enough authenticity from its performers to see things coast along breezily.
Panorama Distributions: the name might strike fear into many, and that wouldn’t be in the least bit surprising, all things considered. For this review I’ve been sent the single disc edition of the film, which isn’t exactly a top draw release, being an entirely bare bones affair; neither is the audio and visual side as solid as it could be. There is a special edition also available from the company, which comprises of two discs and a DTS soundtrack which has curiously been omitted here.
Presented in an anamorphic enhanced aspect ratio of 1.85:1 Nana has only that to recommend. While detail is generally pleasing and flesh tones appear natural, black levels aren’t deep enough and contrast and brightness appear to be slightly boosted. In addition we have compression artefacts such as edge enhancement and macro blocking and an interlaced transfer that exhibits both combing and ghosting. All this on a dual-layered DVD-9 makes things highly disappointing.
Japanese DD2.0 Stereo and DD5.1 Surround tracks are available, the latter of which marginally makes up for the relatively poor transfer. Of course the most important aspect is the film’s soundtrack, which is given a nice workout, though it doesn’t feel as charged as it probably should. That said the music segments are lively enough, with a few decent surround moments, while the film’s dialogue never poses any problems.
Optional English subtitles are also available and for a Hong Kong DVD translation these come across very well, with no dodgy grammatical or timing errors.
Nana surprised me a lot more than I expected it to by providing a story that doesn’t go over the top with melodrama and actually presenting characters in a realistic manner, each of whom have flaws and desires to be closer to those who can fulfil their perfect ideals. It’s also a nice look into Japanese youth culture today, backed by a rousing soundtrack and charismatic performances. While a few niggles here and there suggest it might not be all too perfect, Nana is nonetheless an entertaining film. Shame then that Panorama Distributions hasn’t done a great deal in honouring it.