I’ve had this movie sitting around for a while, but I finally decided to watch it yesterday to distract myself from the epic tragedyfest that was episode 18 of Code Geass R2. I’m not usually much for shoujo, but I think this was a pretty decent choice of distraction.
STORY & PACING – You know, I’ve always had this love/hate sort of relationship with slice-of-life. On one hand, I think it’s great to explore the lives of more ordinary people and how they interact with each other; I often find normal people to be just as fascinating, if not moreso, than the superheros and child prodigies we often see both anime and other media. On the other hand, I love my centralized plots and storylines; I like structure and definitive beginnings, middles, and ends. This leaves me at odds with such films as Lost in Translation, where most of the meaning is defined in not the overarching story (there isn’t really one) but in the individual moments and the relationships between the characters. The main thing is just that slice-of-life often leaves you wanting more, but there isn’t any more because it’s just that — a just slice of life, not the whole pie.
NANA was very much a slice-of-life film. The girls have goals and dreams (well, one more than the other), sure, but the movie itself has no clear structure. Things just happen. Time passes. Time rewinds. I actually found the pacing to be pretty good up until the very end. The flashbacks felt natural, not intrusive or confusing, and the swapping of narrations between the two title characters allowed for varied perspective. There was never really a boring moment. There weren’t that many characters, so relationships were easy to keep track of, even as we traversed through time. I liked the way their pasts worked up towards their present, though I would have liked to have seen more into Nana Komatsu’s past. Though we did touch on the relationship with her boyfriend, Komatsu’s personal story seemed largely eclipsed by Nana Osaki’s, especially since music naturally demands more attention than… well, nothing — Komatsu was more ordinary than Osaki, who was commanding, comparatively, a more traditional, linear storyline, rather than pure and simple slice-of-life.
Given enough time and the right storytelling, I think everyone’s story can evolve from slice-of-life to linear story. Komatsu is probably no exception; we just didn’t get to explore it much. Given the duality theme of the series though, it’s likely that this slight lack of balance between the two Nanas is addressed in the sequel, NANA 2. By the by, I’ve not read NANA the manga (unless half a chapter counts), so I’m watching these movies with a fresh opinion and no prior knowledge of what happens. But anyway, the movie ends at some point, but only because it hit a two hour mark, not because it really had an ending. While this end can be considered an acceptable stopping point, the events leading up to it felt a little rushed. We get opinions on Nana Osaki’s situation from her friends, but we never really hear it from Osaki herself, so I feel a little cheated there. She seemed to have given in so easily and too hastily. Perhaps it’s only foreshadowing?
CHARACTER & ACTING – I’m always amazed when popular musicians double as excellent actors. Mika Nakashima totally floored me. Not only was she ridiculously hot (albeit a bit anorexic looking), even without having read the manga, I feel like her portrayal of Nana Osaki was spot on and perfect. Osaki appears to be a very cautious and secretive character who would much rather hear about others than talk about herself; she fronts a “cool,” devil may care attitude that can be called apathetic or stoic. Nakashima nailed it. Her facial expressions, her harsh and boyish voice, the way she walked and moved — everything seemed to contribute accurately to the character of Osaki. Her pensive expressions were my favorite though; they seemed to give insight into the more guarded depths of Osaki, especially near the end of the film or when she had to be supportive of her friend and roommate. It made her character feel very real. Finally, as a singer playing a singer, Nakashima’s energy when Osaki performs is clear.
I also found Aoi Miyazaki to be quite impressive in her portrayal of Nana Komatsu. Komatsu serves as a direct foil to Osaki; she is bright, perky, cheerful, and seems endlessly optimistic at times. Miyazaki gets this character across very well with a bubbly voice, a bouncy demeanor, and a series of very innocuous faces (seriously, the Japanese are masters at the cute face; it’s ridiculous). But once again, the real talent shows when she has to portrayal the less stereotypical side of the character. Komatsu’s vulnerability and lack of self-direction is evident from the very beginning and presented in a way that’s very easy to relate to. Thus, when her situation changes later on in the movie and that vulnerability becomes more exposed, it doesn’t come as a huge shock. It’s a smooth transition and completely believable.
The rest of the cast seems good enough, average perhaps, though it’s always harder to judge when their characters aren’t explored in depth. Ren seemed a bit too emotionless to me, but it’s hard to say if that’s a perception caused by Nana Osaki’s point of view. The rest of the band — Nobu, Shinichi, and Takumi — was ordinary seeming also, though I think I’d like to know more of each of their pasts and upbringings. The same can be said of Nana Komatsu’s friends. I guess that sort of stuff is hard to fit in when the movie’s title characters have such a dominating presence though, even if much of their stories revolve around their relationships with the other characters. If we’re only to have insight into what Nana and Nana think and feel, then it makes sense that the specific details of everyone else aren’t thought about that often, even if they technically know about them.
MUSIC – I’ve liked Mika Nakashima since I heard her perform Gundam SEED’s third ending, “Find the Way.” And as a huge fan of HYDE, I heard the three-way collaboration (Ai Yazawa, NANA’s creator, wrote the lyrics; HYDE composed the music; Mika Nakashima sings it) of NANA’s highlight song, “glamorous sky,” long, long before I ever saw this movie. I loved it then, and I continued to love it here. It’s a beautiful, beautiful, and energetic song, and the lyrics very obviously reflect the themes of the movie and the hopes and dreams of both characters. Nakashima’s initial performance in the movie — done while standing on a homemade kitchen table with impromptu, nonsensical lyrics — was particularly moving. I think it’s that kind of unbridled artistic spirit that makes these sorts of movies accessible and meaningful to many people in the audience. Her later performance — done on an actual stage with actual lyrics — was a great landmark in the movie storywise, and it reminded me a lot of other indie music-themed series like BECK and to some extent, Gravitation.
NANA was also notable for launching Yuna Ito, who portrayed Reira, the vocalist of fictional band Trapnest, into the Oricon charts. I’d also heard Ito’s music prior to seeing this movie, but her style was less memorable to me than Nakashima’s. Her song in the movie, “ENDLESS STORY” was very pretty, though I wasn’t much fond of her stage presence. It was of that gaudy and pretentious sort, but I wasn’t sure if that was the movie’s way of contrasting her with Nana Osaki or not. The song itself was a good enough contrast in any case — a more mellow piece to “glamorous sky”‘s rambunctious attitude — so I think overall, it fit rather well.
The rest of the soundtrack was normal: not particularly noteworthy in either a positive or negative way.
OVERALL – I liked NANA, though I think it was more because of Nakashima and Miyazaki’s stellar performances and the richness of their characters than the story itself — as I said, it’s hard to define “story” within a slice-of-life structure, even when one of the characters wants to be a rockstar. That isn’t to say that any of the material was really poorly presented, but it may a little unsatisfying if you’re used to a more linear storyline and want things to have a concrete ending. I’m definitely interested enough to watch NANA 2 though, even if reviews of the sequel have been generally poor.