Nana 2 (2006)
Nicholas Driscoll
January 17, 2009
Note: review may contain spoilers

I really enjoyed the first Nana (2005) film, as is evidenced from my review. To me, that film provided a decent story, engaging characters, and plenty of catchy tunes, all based around Ai Yazawa's extremely popular manga series. The first film made enough money that a sequel was quickly put into production with the same director, Kentaro Otani, albeit with a few changes. This time around Otani also wrote the screenplay, replacing Taeko Asano who wrote the first film, and several casting changes were made—most crucially, Yui Ichikawa replacing Aoi Miyazaki as Nana Komatsu, aka "Hachi." Suffice it to say, Nana 2 was not particularly successful monetarily speaking, and has received a thrashing from fans of the first film and the critics alike. Nevertheless, I remained relatively optimistic, and recently had the opportunity to sit down and make acquaintance with the spurned sequel sibling due to the magic of Netflix. My opinion coming off the end is that the movie is considerably better than the critics give it credit for, although I certainly understand much of the disappointment. Still, let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Nana 2 takes place directly after the events of the first film. Nana Osaki (portrayed again by pop-star Mika Nakashima), head singer of the as-yet-unsigned rock band Black Stones, has made it back together with her boyfriend Ren (Nobuo Kyo, replacing Nana's Ryuhei Matsuda), while "Hachi" (Zebraman's Yui Ichikawa), Nana's roommate and best friend, is now single, and desperately lonely. To make matters worse, Hachi gets fired from her job after being berated by her boss, and is at an all time low, feeling left out and worthless next to what she sees as the spectacular life of the rock star that Nana aspires to become. Thus, when the studly drummer from the wildly popular rock band Trapnest, Takumi (Check it Out, Yo!'s Tetsuji Tamayama), takes an interest in her, Hachi immediately clings to him as a pleasurable escape, going with him to a fancy hotel and spending therein a night of passion (though the audience never sees this). Now, Hachi knows Takumi is a playboy, and she also knows she is just setting herself up to be hurt, and badly, so she doesn't tell anyone of her little tryst, hiding it from her roommate and all of her friends. Nana, meanwhile, finally gets the Black Stones signed to a record deal, thus throwing her life into a whirlwind of busyness and publicity, further pulling her away from her friendship with Hachi. Suffice it to say that it is Hachi who has the stormiest emotions; she breaks up with Takumi and starts going out with the much kinder, goofier Nobu (Hiroki Narimiya, from Azumi), the Black Stones' guitarist and song-scribe. When it turns out Hachi is pregnant and she doesn't know who the father is, her life and her friendship with Nana becomes thrown into terrible turmoil, and what she should do next seems very unclear.

The plot of Nana 2 is considerably more melancholic than the original, and the relationships are more strained as deceptions and confusions mount. There is a lot of plot detail to cover here, mostly involving Hachi and her relational snafu, and sometimes character motivations can become cloudy, although I could follow the action easily for the most part, even without having read the comics. Once again, the main characters are complex—most especially Hachi and her web of conflicting emotions and duties. Unfortunately, because of the heavy focus on Hachi and her love triangle, Nana Osaki gets less attention, and a number of important characters from the original movie are either excised entirely, or rate what amounts to a cameo appearance. There is a strong reason for that plot choice—Hachi's relationships are more relevant and deserve the attention they get, especially considering it was Nana's plot that took some precedence in the original. Hachi's tale would have been impossible to handle with multiple side stories unless it was spread over several movies; screenwriter/director Otani seems to have done the best he could have with the material, and once again I came away impressed, and here is why:

Nana 2 doesn't try to oversimplify Hachi's relationships, like a lot of chick flicks might do. In the love triangle, neither Takumi nor Nobu is villainized so as to make for easy solutions. Both have their faults, and Hachi's final choice isn't necessarily obvious. Also:

In Nana 2, actions have consequences. When Hachi or Nana makes a choice in their lives, it deeply affects them and their relationships. One reason I don't like a lot of chick flicks is that they present these idealized relationships or shallow, sexualized partners wherein the attraction makes little sense, and the choices the lovers make don't affect their lives—except when they "fall in love" with the perfect man/woman and live happily ever after. In Nana 2, Hachi's desperately emotional sleepover with Takumi results in pregnancy and changes her life forever, and even when she goes out with the more noble Nobu, her motivations are definitely mixed. Nana's relationship with Ren also becomes more complicated, affecting her chances at "making it" as a band. In Nana 2, there is no happily ever after, merely happy as they can be with the circumstances, living with the mistakes they've made and pressing forward as best they can. As a major recurring theme in the film states blatantly, a dream coming true doesn't equate with happiness. Sometimes, dreams can make things worse.

Much like with the first film, the acting is of variable quality, but mostly strong. Mika Nakashima actually surprised me here as Nana; she is not a professional actor, and her performance in the first film was sometimes weakened by her stilted delivery. It's amazing how she has matured; though she doesn't have as much screen time here, she embodies the awkward position Nana Osaki has as Hachi's close friend in a time of emotional upheaval, and deliver's the most convincing crying in the entire film.

Of course, the biggest weight is on Yui Ichikawa as Hachi, both because she is replacing Aoi Miyazaki, who many fans loved, and because her part is so central to the film's narrative, more so than any other character. I believe that her recasting, as well as the recasting of Ren and Shin, turned off a number of viewers and likely inspired more hate than most other aspects of the film. It's hard to get used to new faces, new voices, and new personalities taking over familiar, well-loved roles. Thus, any flaws in the new actor's performance, or even perceived flaws, become even more pronounced to fans who wanted to see their favorite character portrayed by that former familiar face. Let's get this straight right here: Yui Ichikawa is not bad as Hachi. She is not Aoi Miyazaki, and her take on the character is different—less "pink and pretty" and more "emotionally vulnerable"—but it is also, in my opinion from what I have read of the comics, truer to Ai Yazawa's original conception of Hachi. Miyazaki, wonderful as she was, portrayed Hachi as a bubbly, somewhat dopey girlie girl, entranced by romance, but essentially virginal. Ichikawa's Hachi is slightly less dopey, but just as boy-crazy, except now she is also (as in the comic) very much open to sexual encounters. She doesn't sparkle like Miyazaki, but she doesn't have to. This isn't a sparkly movie.

On the other hand, I would be going too far in Ichikawa's defense if I said her performance was flawless. It is a decent performance, and she gives it her best, but the role calls for a range of emotional expression that was simply beyond Ichikawa's skill level at that time, particularly in some of the more weepy scenes. In fact, there are moments when she comes across as downright bland. I would never want to say she did badly, but neither was she exceptional, which, to some fans, equals condemnation.

Hachi's love interests, both actors returning from Nana, fulfill their roles competently. Tetsuji Tamayama, as Hachi's celebrity crush Takumi, portrays the rocker's emotional distance and surprising maturity well, throwing his money around and possessing remarkable insight, but never quite understanding how to be sensitive to a woman's needs. Hiroki Narimiya, as the songwriter Nobu from Nana's band, is something of a cheerful bleeding heart, fiercely loyal, but indecisive; he is easily likable.

Other than Hachi, two more characters are portrayed by new actors in Nana 2: Nana's boyfriend Ren, and Black Stones' 15-year-old bassist Shin. In the original film, Ren was portrayed by Cutie Honey's Ryuhei Matsuda, and his part was very significant; in Nana 2, Matsuda is replaced by Nobuo Kyo, and his part is very small, popping up occasionally as someone for Nana to run to. Basically, Kyo's biggest impression as Ren is that he looks different from Matsuda. His part isn't big enough for anything more.

Shin is different. At first I didn't like that Kanata Hongo (who played the eponymous The Prince of Tennis that same year) replaced Kenichi Matsuyama, who must have been very busy portraying L in TWO Death Note movies in 2006. I like Matsuyama; his presence on-screen is enjoyable to me. But Hongo actually performed just as well as the overly mature teenager Shin. Hongo has an earnestness that translates well to the screen, and eventually I couldn't help but accept him as a decent substitute.

Other characters, like Hachi's friend Junko and her boyfriend, barely even appear, but it's probably just as well. They were sacrificed for economy, which was essential in producing this movie. Otherwise the film would have been three hours long, or split into two parts. Considering what this movie is, the narrative choices made work in its favor.

Musically, Nana 2 is a step down from the original. Though the sequel has some new songs both from Mika Nakashima as Nana and Yuna Ito as Reira, none of them are quite as memorable as what we had in the first film, and one of Nakashima's songs is actually grating. Ito is quite the songbird, though, and I enjoyed her work here, even if it may not have been as good as what she did in the first movie. On the other hand, Nana 2 also doesn't linger overly long on the concerts, which was a minor problem from the first film. Other than the pop songs, though, the soundtrack is surprisingly silent most of the time, making some of the emotionally arresting sequences stark and, for me, more arresting, and relegating the soft instrumental themes to occasional, more subtle use. Unfortunately, though, these instrumental themes are completely forgettable, and they certainly exited my brain shortly after the movie was finished.

Nana 2 is harshly criticized by many, and unfairly so. I felt the screenwriter deftly edited the material into a manageable level for the purposes of the movie medium while still maintaining a decent level of character complexity and thematic interest, which is no small feat. True, the casting changes were unfortunate, and the story could have been even better in a longer treatment, but I felt Nana 2 succeeded in portraying a complicated, relational story far better than some other manga adaptations, such as the abysmal Honey and Clover. I may be in the minority, but my opinion is that Nana 2 is a worthy sequel to the original, even with its flaws.