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Aoi Miyazaki and Mika Nakashima are the Nanas in NANA.
Year: 2005  
Director: Kentaro Otani  
  Cast: Mika Nakashima, Aoi Miyazaki, Yuta Hiraoka, Ryuhei Matsuda, Yuna Ito
  The Skinny: Entertaining and engaging, this successful but safe comic adaptation doesn't hit any artistic heights. Nevertheless, the performances and its fidelity to the source material will keep everyone happy.
Kevin Ma:

     When an American audience thinks of a comic book (OK, graphic novel) adaptations, they think of superheroes and epic fantasy battles. However, comic book adaptations in Japan are a different animal altogether. With possibly the largest comic book industry in the world, comics in Japan target all kinds of audiences - the young, the old, males, females. If you have spending power in Japan, there'll likely be a comic book targeted for you.
     If you happen to be a Japanese teenage girl, one of your favorite comics may be NANA, the story of the trials and tribulations faced by two girls with the same name, but incredibly different personalities. As the best-selling Shojo ("young girls" in Japanese) comic of all time in Japan, NANA has spawned 15 manga volumes (and counting) with a combined sales of 22 million copies, tons of licensed merchandise, and even a tribute CD featuring Japan's biggest artists. Like all things in Japanese mainstream culture, when a comic hits that kind of success, someone will eventually adopt it into a feature film. In this case, it's Japanese TV network TBS, who produced the 2005 feature film version of NANA.
     Skipping much of the introduction of the first volume of the comic, NANA jumps straight into the beginning of the second volume with the chance meeting of the protagonists: Nana Osaki (recording artist Mika Nakashima), a mysterious and independent punk rocker from a snowy Northern town, and Nana Komatsu (Aoi Miyazaki), a typical Japanese girl who, as Nana O describes, is "cute, fluffy, and a hell of a handful." The two meet on a snowy train ride to Tokyo as they are both going to Tokyo to pursue their dreams: a life as a rock star for Nana O, and a life with boyfriend Shoji for Nana K. By coincidence, they end up living together and become best friends as they go through everyday problems like Shoji's new attraction towards a classmate/coworker and Nana O's inescapable past with ex-boyfriend Ren, who's now a guitarist with a hugely popular pop group.
     Anyone looking for a lesbian bond, tentacles, or ninjas can stay clear of NANA. Director Kentaro Otani (Thirty Lies or So) and screenwriter Taeko Asano stick closely to the source material, literally recreating frames of the comics (think Sin City without the CGI) to tell a ordinary story about how two seemingly different people who come together to fight life's difficulties. The result is a film that'll make both fans and newcomers happy, because it doesn't deviate much from manga, and it also proves accessible to the uninitiated.
     However, like any mainstream work (especially one adapted from well-known source material), NANA is also extremely calculated, with Otani taking a safe road with both his visual style (going for a plain white and gray palate) and his script, which wraps everything up in a nice little bow, while also opening things up for a sequel. The film seems to be done with such a careful blueprint that there's even theme music for the flashbacks involving Nana O and Ren. Instead of setting up the characters to induce sympathy, Otani expects these characters to be so well-known that audiences should automatically relate to them from the first frame. Sometimes NANA can be frustrating for newcomers, as it occasionally feels like it's only going through the motions of its episodic structure, rather than trying to engage audiences in any type of emotional experience.
     Thankfully, there are the performances. Casting Mika Nakashima was inspired casting, as her off-screen persona of a mysteriously quiet artist matches the manga character perfectly. Meanwhile, Aoi Miyazaki, even with the less meaty role of Nana K, captures the Nana K's innocence and naiveté from the manga perfectly. The chemistry between the two actresses is the driving force for NANA, keeping the audience engaged as the two Nanas leap from the pages of the manga and onto the screen as living, breathing characters. The supporting players are also competent, except for the deadpan Ryuhei Matsuda as the elusive and charming Ren. His character is supposed to exude a charm that keeps Nana O running back to him, but Matsuda seems to have confused an emotionless face for suaveness.
     While a comic books such as NANA would not be considered ideal for adaptation into a feature film by American standards, the intention of the finished product is very much the same: to start up a successful film franchise that will keep established fans happy while also attracting new ones. NANA met theatrical success by earning over US$35 million in Japan, becoming one of the biggest hits of 2005, but attempts to continue the franchise have so far failed. A planned 11-episode TV series failed to launch when the lead actress dropped out, and plans for a sequel have also sputtered with both actresses refusing to return. That's unfortunate, because even though NANA is as safe as commercial films get, it's also every bit as successful, entertaining, and engaging as well. NANA may not be one of the best films of 2005, but it's one of the most successful comic adaptations in recent memory. (Kevin Ma 2006)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Panorama Entertainment
2-Disc Set
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese subtitles
Various extras
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