Available: DVD, Viz Pictures
Two girls sit next to each other on a train traveling on a snowy winter night, both on their way to Tokyo. The pair couldn’t be more different: One, a chattering, cute, perky and polite suburb girl on her way to come live with her boyfriend, whom she babbles about incessantly; The other, a broody, quiet girl dressed in the finest punk garb Harajuku has to offer — pleated skirt fitted with more chains than Mr. T owns, thigh high leggings and a black mini top.
And it turns out, they’re both named Nana.
So starts the collision of two very different worlds in the film Nana, one of the more recent offerings from Viz Pictures, a company which has brought a number of high quality Japanese films to our shores in recent days.
And Nana is no exception to this quality. The film, based on a manga series of the same name, tells the tale of two Nana’s, both with very different backgrounds, but with a shared interest in one particular aspect previously missing in both their lives, which becomes the theme of the movie — friendship.
It turns out the trip to Tokyo didn’t go quite as planned for cutesy Nana (whom later earns the nickname Hachi — meaning “eight,” where Nana means seven — one of those cultural tidbits). It turns out her boyfriend isn’t as keen on the idea of her living with him, and wants her to get her own apartment and job, shattering her domestic ambitions of playing house-wife. While being shown the one apartment she can afford, punk-rock Nana shows up wanting the same place — and wouldn’t you know it, they agree to share the apartment.
We learn more about Nana, whose band she sang in with her boyfriend fell apart and his new band, Trapnest, went on to become huge. Hachi is of course clueless about all this and, as our plot device would have it, a huge fan of Trapnest. Meanwhile, Nana is attempting to match Trapnest’s success with her own band, while Hachi is attempting to sort out her new life of trying to hold a job and keep her love life in order.
Essentially we have here the buddy cop formula told in a different context — two very different and conflicting personalities are thrown together and forced to iron out those kinks and become the best of friends. But the formula is a formula because it often works, and here it works surprisingly well — one can’t help but be drawn into the plot and the characters with real emotional investment.
The film launched the career of Japanese pop sensation Mika Nakashima, whose music happens to fit the film’s (and by extension, the manga’s) tone. Her music is punky, yet accessible, somewhat reminiscent of the nineties alternative scene and yet distinctly Japanese. If you’re a fan of her music you will enjoy Nana for that reason alone, and if you haven’t been exposed to her yet, it’s likely this film will convert you — don’t be surprised to be humming her tunes the next day.
All in all, the film works. The scenes with Nana and Hachi are undeniably heartwarming, if not sometimes just out-and-out hilarious. The musical aspect will lend an extra hook for J-music fans and for those who love Tokyo scenery, the film is loaded with interesting shots and cinematography. The cast simply dares you not to love them, and it’s a dare most won’t win.
Nana 2 (2006)
Available: DVD, Viz Pictures
While the first film was fun, quirky and sincere with loveable and diverse characters, the second leaves something to be desired.
Many who saw Nana probably jumped at the chance to grab another installment of Nana and Hachi. The last movie left them loveably situated together in their apartment, ready for the next adventure to ensue. Another film could only be a good and natural thing, right?
Disappointingly, no. Several changes in Nana 2, such as characters and tone, are strikingly different. For one thing, not all the actors are the same. The film, which was shot very shortly after the first film’s release, and shot in a very short amount of time, had some casting issues. Aoi Miyazaki didn’t want to reprise her role of hachi, replaced by Yui Ichikawa (disappointing). Nana’s boyfriend Ren is now played by Nobuo Kyou (not as disappointing). The difference is noticeable, but not enough to make this film avoidable.
What might signal that avoidance, however, is the direction these characters go — if the first movie was heartwarming and funny, the tone of this incarnation of Nana is downright depressing.
We start with Hachi receiving a text message from Nana to meet her at a certain building at 7 pm. Hachi is speaking to us in the voice-over narrative used throughout the first film, giving us vague clues to how she came to be awaiting Nana’s band’s performance in a busy public square in the heart of Tokyo.
Then back we go, to the chronological beginning of the film, which starts pretty much where we left off with Nana. Hachi gets fired from another job, but immediately receives a call for a date from her crush from the first movie, Takumi, the bass player from Trapnest. This causes a wrinkle in the fold, as Nana is trying to hook her up with her guitarist, Nobu, whose been crushing on her since film one.
If that seems like a mouthful, well, that’s because it is; but that’s only the beginning. The basic result to all this mess is a love triangle that turns out anything but heartwarming. Without giving it away, the ending is just downright depressing, even if things turn out great for the band.
If the first film invited us to invest ourselves in the characters and then rewarded that investment, then Nana 2 repays our investment with a stock market crash. If Nana is like Star Wars: A New Hope, then Nana 2 is like The Empire Strikes Back and Wins. And things are wrapped in a way that ensures Return of the Nana will not be in the cards.
Don’t get me wrong — it can’t be said that Nana 2 is a bad film. In fact, it might have been more emotionally engaging than the first Nana film. But be warned — those emotions will not be happy ones.