NANA is a romantic drama penned by shoujo genius and manga artist Yazawa Ai. But don’t let the ‘shoujo‘ (girl’s fiction) genre fool you, NANA is a story that everyone – men and women – will find addicting. Based on the manga of the same name, NANA possesses all the characteristics of a classic Japanese romantic drama (conflicting personal relationships, petty rivalries, love triangles – all set in unrealistically glamorous scenarios), but Yazawa’s love for her characters and respect for the story produces a shockingly believable fictional world. Unafraid to address the more complex issues connected to romance (including sex and pregnancy), Yazawa captures the most heartbreaking and compelling aspects of interpersonal relationships.
At its core, NANA is a story about two very different girls with the same name who meet one another and develop a friendship completely by chance. Oosaki Nana (played by Nakashima Mika) is a serious, driven punk rocker who has dedicated her life to music and fulfilling her dream of becoming a singer. Conversely, Komatsu Nana (Miyazaki Aoi) is a frivolous girly girl with very little direction in life and has a very bad habit of devoting herself completely to the worst men possible. After coincidentally meeting on a train bound for Tokyo, the two girls end up renting an apartment together in the city. Komatsu Nana also befriends the members of Oosaki Nana’s band Black Stones and the rival rock group Trapnest. The two girls are essentially polar opposites; Komatsu has a fairly weak personality and just tags along with the people around her. She moved to Tokyo to be with her boyfriend, only to discover that he had been cheating on her. On the other hand, Oosaki is independent and strong-willed; her dream is to succeed as the lead singer of Black Stones and gave up on her relationship to pursue it. The first live action movie (to be followed by a sequel in 2006) focuses on establishing the complex connections between the rival bands, Oosaki Nana’s rise to fame as the lead singer of Black Stones, and her reunion with her former lover Ren (now the guitarist for Trapnest). It also shows the beginning of Komatsu Nana’s relationship with Trapnest bassist Takumi.
The release of NANA was met with a lot of buzz in Japan and, due to the popularity of the manga, was given an unusually large budget for a romantic drama. Thankfully, this money was well spent and the film is quite good. A key component of the story is music. Unlike the unfortunate adpatation of Yazawa’s other manga Paradise Kiss (which ignored the fashion element of the story), the NANA film has a consistently superb soundtrack and cast well-known musicians and actors to play the key roles. Nakashima Mika, who first rose to popularity for her jazz/R&B music, is shockingly perfect as a punk rock star and underwent a complete makeover for the film; including chopping off her signature long hair to rock Oosaki Nana’s pitch-black bob to complete the transformation. Nakashima Mika also performs the key single for the film ‘Glamorous Sky,’ (written by J-rock legend Hyde of L’Arc-en-Ciel) and this song is absolutely addicting to listen to. Music was used heavily for the promotion of NANA, the soundtrack also features songs from singer Ito Yuna (who plays the lead singer of rival band Trapnest). More importantly, the film actually manages to visual reproduce Yazawa Ai’s unique character designs and considerable effort was put into accurately styling the actors (another lesson that Paradise Kiss failed to learn). While Nakashima portrays Oosaki a bit gentler than the original character, her acting is solid. Matsuda Ryuuhei (Gohatto) also delivers a fine performance as Oosaki’s lover Ren. Miyazaki Aoi (Virgin Snow) has the ‘cute Japanese girl’ role down to a science and was a good choice to portray the hapless Komatsu Nana.
Unfortunately, while NANA does a great job with casting and music, the script is disappointing. The NANA manga is very long and many aspects of the original story were cut out to cram as much as possible into a two hour film. The story is much better when told as a series and the NANA live action film isn’t quite as good as the manga OR the anime adaptation. Overall, the writing in the film makes the story seem a bit rushed and the audience doesn’t really have the time to connection to the rather long list of characters. Without reading the manga and having prior knowledge of the story, it’s impossible for viewers to truly understand and care about these characters with just the film along. It’s fairly impossible for a movie to recover from a lackluster script and NANA ultimately ends up being a 113 minutes of beautiful people wearing cool clothes and making music. The result is a very entertaining movie, but nothing that can truly compare to the original story.