Nana 2

The first Nana was a sneak attack on my happy glands – a warm sweet story of female friendship that struck a perfect balance between sentiment, comedy and drama. It was that rare feel good film that didn’t make you feel like a complete sap for falling for it. The film can almost be used as a litmus test for prospective partners – if they don’t like the film the chances are they kick animals when no one is looking and will become abusive alcoholics over time. Stay away from these people. That is because Nana is a giant two hour communal hug that reaches all of our soft vulnerable places that we shield so diligently. And in the middle of that group hug is Aoi Miyazaki, who plays the cute Nana or Hachi as she becomes known as. Aoi Miyazaki is a candidate for the cutest actress in the known world and she can bring out every paternal, maternal or protective instinct that humans have – and all with one little flustered pout.

She is like a fluffy stuffed toy and I am surprised that Japan hasn’t created a holiday for her called Kawaii Day when everyone has to be nice to each other. Off setting her Kawaii qualities in the film is the other Nana, a tough but tender hearted punk rocker played by singer Mika Nakashima (who’s CD The End I am listening to now). Perhaps in the real world this odd pairing of friends may seem close to fantasy but in the celluloid world it is like chocolate ice cream and almonds – just right. Through all the things that the cold world throws at them, it is their friendship that holds their heads above water and keeps them going.

The success of that film demanded a sequel and so it arrived like a Japanese Bullet Train right on schedule, but unfortunately Aoi was unavailable for her part and it went to actress, Yui Ichikawa, who toils mightily to imitate Aoi as the adorable Hachi but just can’t quite pull it off. The film didn’t meet expectations at the box office and I expect that part of the reason was this cast switch (as well as a few others) but may also have much to do with the uncomfortable turn that the narrative takes in the film. If you recall the first film ends with Hachi having overcome heartbreak to stand on her own, Nana coming to an understanding in her relationship with fellow musician Ren from the band Trapnest and Nana’s band The Black Stones still looking for commercial success. Perhaps it should have ended there as there is really no where for it to go.

The beauty of the first film was how simple and unadorned the emotional aspects were, but with the basics already set in place the new film loses the fine balance it had and goes head first into unkempt melodrama in which our little Hachi goes through emotional grownup hell. Did anyone really want to see Hachi fall into a suicidal depression and become a serial killer who first seduces her targets before stabbing them in the eye? OK – not really but not so far either as Hachi finds herself in a messy love triangle, makes bad relationship decisions, ignores her true friends, gets knocked up and in a sense finds herself back where she started – dependent on a man. In the midst of this wreckage are some fine scenes, some fine songs and a friendship that still holds together – but it never manages the warm magic of the first and there are no group hugs here. It certainly does set up another sequel though, but with the so-so box office of this one I don’t know if one is planned – but they can’t leave Hachi where she ends up can they?

My Rating for Nana 1: 9.0
My Rating for Nana 2: 6.5

Nana 1 Viewed on DVD
Nana 2 Viewed in a theater

Mika's songs in Nana 1 and 2 and live here and musical video here

Nana 1 Trailer here

Nana 2 Trailer here

Nana 2 theater promo