Based on an already popular Japanese manga, the movie Nana, about two young women’s unlikely friendship, has exploded that popularity into a phenomenon, spawning fan clubs, music albums, a film sequel and an anime spin-off.
Meeting on the train to Tokyo, two young women come to share an apartment although the only thing they have in common is their age and the first name Nana. Nana Osaki (Mika Nakashima) is moving to the city in the hopes of reigniting her music career, which stumbled when Ren (Ryuhei Matsuda), her boyfriend and the guitarist in her last band, left to join a nationally popular band. Nana Komatsu (Aoi Miyazaki) is moving to Tokyo to be closer to her boyfriend Shoji (Yuta Hiraoka), who moved to Tokyo a year earlier. Bubbly, eager to please and just a bit flighty, she quickly earns the nickname Hachi, after a famous Japanese dog, from the other Nana.
Hachi is very focused on her relationship with Shoji, doing everything he asks and being overly understandable when his work and school schedule keeps them from spending time together. She is so focused that she doesn’t realize the obvious- that Shoji is pulling away from her, uncertain of how to end their relationship. Meanwhile. Nana’s perpetually sullen façade hides the hurt and resentment she still feels towards Ren’s abandonment of her. At first, the two inadvertently help each other with their romantic problems, but as their friendship grows, each begins to take a more active part in helping with the other’s problems.
While there are elements of the story that clearly sound like melodrama, the film underplays them with a hint of reservation. The screenplay works both characters equally well, though it is the bubbly Nana who motivates all the action. Once stirred, though, the other Nana can be a force to be reckoned with, as is evidenced when the pair discover Shoji’s infidelity. Each actress plays their part well, giving shade and some nuance to characters that could come off as too broad, especially when contrasted with the other. The Nana’s separate circle of friends are only moderately defined, but since they only support film’s story, this comes as a relief from similar Hollywood movies that always seem compelled to shoehorn a “wacky best friend” character.
Nana isn’t a great film if one is looking for something to address great issues or reveal hitherto unrevealed truths. It is a simple story of friendship and overcoming heartbreak, well told. These are the kind of meaty parts that Hollywood actresses often complain they are not getting, but would love to take on. Perhaps studio executives might want to consider looking at a film like Nana for an English language remake instead of the tireless parade of Asian horror films. Until then, we at least have this small gem to enjoy.