Saturday, September 06, 2014

Nana to Kaoru

In stark contrast to the flock of pure love manga series that have been recently made into film, the live-action adaptation of Ryuta Amazume's Nana to Kaoru comes off as a black sheep, having at its core an innocent young love that's expressed in an untraditional manner. With an oiroke manga as its source material, this movie is simultaneously childish and funny, but also wistful and erotic. Those with a prudish disposition are advised to stay away, given that the subject matter of the movie involves two teenagers' accidental and awkward immersion into bondage and sadomasochism. Its premise may be weird and reprehensible but in the end, it does manage to do more by offering some insight into this alternative lifestyle than say, far-fetched, gratuitous bestsellers like Fifty Shades of Grey.

While scandalous in some respects for tackling behavior that is taboo, the film in itself is somewhat ero-lite. It's not as radical or provocative as Moonlight Whispers because despite the deviant display of fanservice, it often pulls back and settles into a teen romance. Yes, it has the ability to shock but it never goes into extremes, which is why it's in an unusual position to repulse viewers and at the same time touch their hearts. 

Would I recommend it? It really is a tough call to make for there are elements in it that work well and still elements that could have been done better. To appreciate it, one must keep an open mind and, since Nana to Kaoru firmly belongs in B-movie territory, a high tolerance for instances of poor acting. Be that as it may, it's certainly a leg up from manga-based adaptations of the same genre like Sundome.

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Childhood friends and next door neighbors, Sugimura Kaoru (Tochihara Rakuto) and Chigusa Nana (Nagase Maho) have slowly drifted apart through the years on account of seemingly different pursuits and interests. He's a slacker who has an S&M fetish, acquiring the nickname "Creepymura" for hanging out with horny boys in his section who oggle at girls and collect porn. She, on the other hand, is a natural beauty according to the movie anyway and  a model student who excels at pretty much everything she sets her mind to.

Kaoru knows that Nana is out of his league and has resigned himself to admire her from afar. His status as a pariah in high school prevents him from getting close to her, that is, until one fateful night, when he finds an embarrassed and insecure Nana on his doorstep in need of his help. He soon discovers Nana wearing the leather one-piece bondage outfit that his mother confiscated and is surprised to  see how it elicited such a visceral reaction from her. He's equally pleased to find out how receptive she is to his attempts to subjugate her and is beside himself with joy when he's solicited by Nana to help her out with her "breathers".

Armed only with the teachings of his beloved S&M guru Sarashina, Kaoru sets out to fulfill Nana's wish by preparing for and assisting her with her breathers. Together, they embark on this journey in secret, ushered by the satisfaction that they derive from being with each other and the thrill of being discovered doing something so... uhm, unconventional. 

The beauty of this Shimizu Atsushi adaptation is that it doesn't stray from its source material. The film endeavors to be sexy and erotic but is devoid of any nudity or sexual intercourse. It pays sufficient attention to Nana and Kaoru's relationship by following the progression of their S&M play, but more importantly, it underscores the level of trust, devotion and love involved in it. Aside from the apparent thrill and the perceived perversity of engaging in such activities, the screenplay doesn't fail to take into consideration the emotional connection that allows for this kind of intimacy. This much can be seen by how much Kaoru is shown to genuinely care for Nana and her well-being. Conversely, the same can be seen in Nana's willingness to submit to Kaoru even when she's shown to be naturally steadfast and domineering.

What sets Nana to Kaoru apart is its ability to balance its more risqué content with tender, heartfelt moments, this notwithstanding the fact that certain scenes as depicted have the inherent tendency to turn odious without proper direction. Viewers can witness the beginnings of first love, as often seen in countless movies, the only difference is that their red string of fate manifests itself through a leash and a collar. The smattering of comical sequences also tend to lighten the tone, they serve to emphasize the relative inexperience of its characters, though it would probably have worked better if they weren't made to vocalize their inner thoughts and emotions in the same batty air as manga and anime characters do.

Of the two actors, Tochihara Rakuto has the more worrisome task of transforming into a lecherous teen when playing the dominant role to turning into a lovestruck young man, plagued by self-doubt. He often goes over the top when Kaoru is at the height of their breathers but does a good job at conveying the softer side of the character. With Nagase Maho, it's more of a struggle. There's a duality to the role of Nana which is quite difficult to capture and more often than not, she ends up portraying her as a cute, whiny teen who tends to lick her lips at the thought of being called a bad girl. To be fair, the two of them do manage to create one or  two memorable scenes, which is more than a film of this kind can hope for. 


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