Judge Adam Arseneau's lucky number is seven.
Our review of Nana: Box Set 1, published October 29th, 2009, is also available.
Don't let pride scare away happiness.
Based upon the popular Japanese manga by Ai Yazawa, Nana is a live-action adaptation of a teen franchise which has given rise to a full-length anime series, hit records, and a two live-action films. Is it worth the hubbub? Absolutely.
Facts of the Case
Two young women—gruff punk rocker Nana Osaki (J-pop star Mika Nakashima) and bubbly socialite Nana Komatsu (Aoi Miyazaki, All About My Dog)—meet by chance on a train heading to Tokyo and become fast friends. They share the same first name and are of the same age, but their lives and personalities could not be more different. The punk Nana is on her way to Tokyo to make a fresh start, after both her band and love life ended in disappointment back in the North. The other Nana is on her way to move in with her long-distance boyfriend, but soon finds life in the big city is a lot more complicated than she imagined.
By chance, the two end up vying for the same apartment and decide to share the space, splitting the rent. Though the two have little in common, both see something in each other that brings out the best in their own lives. When both girls find it difficult to balance love against their pride, their unlikely friendship is the only thing they have to fall back on.
Nana is the perfect realization of character development and story complimenting each other. Each one harmonizes perfectly in melodious tune when the other struggles, balancing each other into perfect resonance. On its surface, the story is simplistic and even a bit predictable, but the vast emotional investment in the characters covers up whatever blemishes might exist in the script. Likewise, at times the characters can be a bit one-dimensional, but heartfelt writing, clever gags, and genuine sincerity in the story blur away such imperfections like an airbrush on a model. When taken as a whole, Nana is a charming and rousing success, full of laughter, tears, and genuine passion. Not bad for a comic.
The joy in the tale is all about Nana as a singular entity; both girls total opposites of one another and their budding friendship. One is an airhead, full of passion and cuteness and bubbling enthusiasm, who follows her heart but is too flighty to make an impact on the world. The other is tempered, moody, melancholic, and feisty, a struggling musician who lets pride guide her decisions. Both girls become two sides of the same coin as the film progresses, each gaining strength from the other. The two unlikely but fast friends are just nauseatingly adorable together, and even the most callous and disinterested of viewers will find themselves oddly drawn into the tale. There is nothing particularly out of the ordinary, groundbreaking, or daring about the story or its characters, only the satisfaction of a well-executed tale. It's that adorable.
The cinematic adaptation has stayed true to the source material with only a few minor character deviations (mostly in how Nana's and Shoji's relationship plays out), but the changes work well for the film by putting both Nanas on the same level in dealing with love from a deficit position. Both female leads are cast perfectly to represent their manga counterparts; the bubbly Nana (played by the adorable Aoi Miyazaki) is a walking caricature of an anime doll herself, with goofy emoting facial expressions, a manic grin, and enough pep to choke a camel. The punk rock Nana (played by J-pop star Mika Nakashima) has been cast and dressed in perfect emulation to her paper counterpart, and her band of punk misfits comes fully fleshed-out and vibrant.
Listen, this isn't the kind of movie I normally go for, okay? It's hard to even write these glowing, praising words without reaching a hand into my shorts periodically and re-assure myself that the, uh, boys are still home. Despite the lack of inherent manliness in the tale, Nana really is a great film. It has the perfect balance between genuine character development creating honest and emotional attachments to its protagonists and a story that plays out easily, spreading around the laughs and tears through constant struggles to balance friendship, love, and pride. The latter two emotions in particular is a big theme in Nana, with both girls wanting love, but having problems reconciling their own pride, which seems to be preventing their happiness—especially the punk Nana and her estranged rocker boyfriend Ren (blank-faced Ryuhei Matsuda, Gohatto). Another perfectly cast role, by the way.
Music is a big part of this film, and Nana is laden with J-pop songs that are biologically catchy the way a cold is contagious. Whether you like the music or not, the songs and melodies go in your ear and incubate for days. The Japanese often do strange things to their music, but the songs in Nana are undeniably adorable and catchy—although not nearly as punk rock as Nana and the Black Stones' outfits would suggest—and perfectly compliment the film. For fans of J-pop, some of the songs were penned by the singer from L'Arc-en-Ciel, so aficionados should know exactly what to expect in these tunes. Imagine Avril Lavigne if she was Japanese, a hundred times cuter, and didn't suck to listen to.
The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen, with a nice comfortable transfer featuring good black levels, nicely saturated colors, and good skin tones. The film is nicely composed, with some handsome static shots and composition going on, but nothing too daring. The transfer is clean, but some compression artifacts are detectable here and there. A PCM stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 Stereo presentation (both in native Japanese) are included—the stereo has a nice clarity and simplicity in its mix, but the surround track is the way to go: nice bass, great environmental details in rear channels, and a big punchy volume boost. It makes the stereo presentation sound weak in comparison.
In terms of supplements, this is a disappointingly bare release (other regions got fancier two-disc versions). We get theatrical and teaser trailers for Nana (plus some other Viz films) and a filmography section and nothing else.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Nana is overwhelmingly sweet to the point of being saccharine; even the moments of genuine sadness and anguish are, well, kind of wussy. This is, after all, a shojo manga, whose target audiences are usually pre-teens and teenage girls, so this makes sense. To translate to Western sensibilities, this is the Japanese equivalent of a chick-lit cinematic adaptation. Sure, hulking, brutish biker dudes with tattoos may not find the film to their, ahem, tastes, but honestly it really is a great film.
Nana is as sweet as a bowl of chocolate. A tender, touching, and uplifting tale, this is a film you should seek out and acquire as soon as possible. For an added bonus, male cinema fans should show it to their girlfriends, raising their appreciation for foreign cinema as well as relationship points with the lady. Win-win!
Painfully adorable, although I hear Nana 2 isn't nearly as good…but that will have to wait for its own trial.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Viz Media
• Director and Cast Profile
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