So I saw the first live-action Nana movie (based on the manga by Ai Yazawa.) For those who haven’t heard me natter on endlessly about this series already, the story focuses on two young women, both named Nana, who move to Tokyo. One Nana is brooding, tough and streetwise; she’s trying to make it as a punk-rock singer. The other Nana (nicknamed Hachi) is sweet, ditzy, and often shallow and aimless; she comes to the city to be with her boyfriend. The two women become roommates and best friends, and the story follows their efforts to find true happiness and the travails of an ever-expanding circle of friends and acquaintances. It’s one of my favorite comics of any genre, and one of the best soap-operas in any medium.

There are definitely some glitches in translating the manga to screen. Most notably, when you read the manga, you don’t have to hear, or much think about, what the music of Trapnest and Blast actually sounds like. In the movie, alas, you have a soundtrack…and are thereby forced to realize that the supposedly amazing, original rock music actually sounds, way, way too much like Whitney Houston fronting the Foo Fighters. J-pop…erk.

It’s also simply impossible to fit six or so volumes of manga into two hours of running time; you have to cut something, which means that Yazawa’s finely balanced characterizations must, of necessity, go out of whack. The major casualty here is Shoji, Hachi’s boyfriend. He simply doesn’t get enough screentime, and so he ends up much less sympathetic, and much more callous, than he seems in the manga. It’s not entirely flubbed; the actor who portrays him seems genuinely distraught when he hurts Hachi, for instance, and there is a scene where Jun (Hachi’s friend) points out to her that Shouji had some legitimate grievances. But you don’t get to feel or see quite as clearly how selfish Hachi can be as you do in the manga.

Finally, of course, you lose Yazawa’s mavelous art. The movie is certainly competently, and even nicely, shot — the scenes with Nana and Ren in various bathtubs are especially sensual and romantic — but in terms of technical mastery, nothing in the movie really matches Yazawa’s impeccable design or beautiful drawing.

Still, overall, these are pretty minor quibbles. In fact, the extent to which the movie captures the spirit of the manga is pretty miraculous. Whoever wrote the script (and from some of Yazawa’s comments, I don’t think Yazawa was that closely involved) obviously read the manga with great care. The cuts are overall very smart, and the weaving in of the complicated backstory thorugh flashbacks and exposition is remarkably well done. For example, cutting out Hachi’s pre-Shoji boyfriend is a fine idea; it was one of the least involving parts of the story, and dumping it is a good way to shelve a bunch of useless plot all at once. On the other hand, the writers transpose but are careful to keep a quick kiss between Nana and Hachi — a moment that is, I think, an important, if not obvious, emotional touchstone for the series. Indeed, if anything, the romantic, platonic-but-only-just nature of the love between the Nanas is even more foregrounded in the movie than in the book. I’m sure it’s in the manga, but I completely didn’t remember that Hachi actually tells Nana that she sees her as a boyfriend…and I love in the movie, as in the book, the scene where Hachi falls asleep with her head on Nana’s shoulder while the two wait for Shoji to finish work. (And there are two separate scenes in the movies where a scarf is exchanged; once between Nana and her boyfriend Ren; once between Nana and Hachi — and these are clearly meant to be parallel.)

As for the casting…it’s fantastic. Mika Nakashima as Nana is stunningly sexy — the film opens with her talking, um, tongue-in-cheek about orgasms, and…well, it’s definitely a fan-yourself moment. Throughout the film she’s alternately cool and vulnerable; chewing Hachi out for being a dope one minute and letting her rest her head on her shoulder the next. (Also, Nakashima is very nearly as skinny as Ai Yazawa’s drawing of the character, which is sort of a wonder in itself). Aoi Miyazaki as Hachi is perfect too; all bubbly and self-absorbed, but considerate and sweet too if you can just get her to notice you. Ren (Ryuhei Matsuda) is great as well; he seems tough and swaggering, but you look a little closer and you realize that he’s actually a bit doughy — not really all that. He is obviously in no way worthy of Nana . This is true in the manga as well, and in some ways makes him more sympathetic; especially as he seems to realize it himself. Other characters are around less, but they all are well played; a burbly, air-headed, frequently intoxicated Nobu is particularly good.

So as far as live-action comics adaptations go this has to be the best I’ve seen (always excepting the 60s Adam West Batman movie, of course.) If you like the manga, I’d absolutely recommend seeing this…and if you’re wondering whether to start in on the series, renting this would be a good, cheap way to figure out whether you’d be likely to enjoy it. There’s a second movie already out that I’m looking forward to seeing as well.