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Mika Nakashima and Yui Ichikawa in NANA 2.
Year: 2006  
Director: Kentaro Otani  
  Cast: Yui Ichikawa, Mika Nakashima, Nobuo Kyou, Tetsuji Tamayama, Hong Kanata, Hiroki Narimiya, Yuna Ito
  The Skinny: Disappointing sequel to the hit 2005 suffers from casting miscues, poor writing, and a considerably less interesting storyline than its predecessor.
Review by Calvin McMillin:      Sequels that don't retain primary cast members are always a shaky proposition. Call it the Speed 2 principle. Jason Patric may arguably be a better actor than Keanu Reeves, but that's not the point - audiences tend to want to see familiar faces in their sequels. But still, as a franchise, Ai Yazawa's mega-popular manga NANA is potentially bigger than any one actor, as it has been adapted in both film and anime forms. Like the manga its based on, the first filmic NANA tells the story of two young women who share the same name, but are polar opposite in terms of personality, fashion style, and overall outlook on life. One Nana (Mika Nakashima) is a punk rocker who wouldn't be caught dead shopping at the Hello Kitty store, while the other is an adorable romantic (Aoi Miyazaki) who'd look more than a little out of place at your local Hot Topic. Despite these differences, they become not only roommates, but eventually the best of buddies. The two Nanas make for a truly odd couple indeed.
     The first film, while nothing extraordinary, was entertaining to say the least, in large part due to the chemistry and star power of its two lead actresses. Unfortunately, by the time NANA 2 was scheduled to commence, a number of its stars were tied up with other projects. Lead actress Aoi Miyazaki and supporting actors Ryuhei Matsuda and Kenichi Matsuyama were either unable or unwilling to return for the sequel, and were replaced by Yui Ichikawa, Nobuo Kyo, and Kanata Hongo respectively. Can a film with such a drastic change in cast possibly live up to its predecessor? Theoretically, the answer is yes, but in practice? Not quite.
     NANA 2 centers on the romantic misadventures of the series' resident cutie-pie, Nana Komatsu (nicknamed "Hachi"). After a run of bad luck in the romance department, she's started seeing (read: sleeping with) Takumi (Tetsuji Tamayama), the oh-so dreamy guitarist of Trapnest. Unfortunately, he's a bit of a cad, but the star-struck Hachi doesn't seem to mind. Drama ensues when Nobu (Hiroki Nariyama), the guitarist for Nana's indie punk band, The Black Stones, takes a shine to Hachi as well and proclaims his love for her. Torn between two men, Hachi's woes grow exponentially when she discovers - whoops - that she's pregnant. Who's the daddy? Is she going to keep the baby? And what does her pal Nana think of all this?
     Although the focus of the first NANA seemed to be equally split amongst the two leads, NANA 2 seems more preoccupied with Hachi's love life and its effect on everyone around her. Sure, Nana is going through some tough times, but every bit of it seems to be just a footnote to the extended episode of Maury Povich that Hachi's life has become. Nana's relationship woes with Ren, her desire to make it big on her own terms, and her inability to be the type of friend she wants to be for Hachi - all of these aspects of her character are so severely muted in the film that it throws off the balance between the two characters. It's a real shame that her character is basically relegated to a supporting role because Nakashima is clearly the more charismatic of the two actresses. She may wear the tough, Goth girl look, but one never feels like it's just a case of an actress playing "dress-up." She's the real deal.
     The same cannot be said of the glammed out boys in both The Black Stones and Trapnest as they strain ever so hard to look like super-cool tough guys. As far as the replacements are concerned, Nobuo Kyo makes for a slightly manlier version of Ren than Ryuhei Matsuda did, but he's just as bland as his predecessor. Kenichi Matsuyama is missed in the role of Shin, mainly because the more obviously younger and effeminate Kanata Hongo looks more like he belongs in the live-action version of Kingdom Hearts than as a guitar player for a punk rock band.
     Of course, the main casting issue is with Hachi herself. Simply put, Yui Ichikawa is no Aoi Miyazaki. In the early goings, Ichikawa's cutesy-shtick feels patently fake and annoying, although to her credit, her acting improves in the more serious scenes. Even so, she seems miscast in a role that Miyazaki made her own. But it's not all her fault either. Ichikawa isn't helped by the fact that her character is written so passively that she comes across as weak and unsympathetic. That would be fine if her character actually had an arc to speak of. I'm not familiar with the actual events of the manga, but everything plays out like a Cliffs Notes version of the original story in the sense that nothing ever seems to be fleshed out, especially in terms of her relationships with Takumi and Nobu.
     Even worse, it's extremely difficult to glean what sort of message Hachi actually learned by the end of the film. It seems as if she's supposed to be learning that it's time to grow up and take responsibility for her life, and yet it's as if somewhere along the way the filmmakers forgot to show how Hachi has actually done anything of the sort. She still seems like she's sleepwalking through life, and Nana's final bit of advice - meant to be jokey - seems more like a sad commentary on the future that awaits Hachi. Of course, that's likely the point, but even if that were the case, the actual execution of Hachi's story doesn't quite hit the mark.
     Of course, fans of the first NANA will likely want to see what happened to their favorite characters in the second film, and NANA 2 does provide a serviceable, if disappointing follow-up. There are some catchy tunes, and Mika Nakashima is mesmerizing as the tough-as-nails half of the NANA duo. Unfortunately, poor casting choices, weak writing, and a so-so storyline squanders much of the promise and goodwill forged in the first film. (Calvin McMillin, 2007)
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
  Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen