Friday, October 24, 2014

Nana to Kaoru: Chapter 2

The second installment of Nana to Kaoru retains the basic elements that made its predecessor both touching and controversial, decisively providing more of the same and then some. True to its title, it plays out like an excerpt from the manga, which, while wholly invested in providing some fun and mischief to counter its risqué and disturbing content, does very little to apprise viewers of the real score between these teenagers.

Will these two ever officially get together or are they just destined to live out this dysfunctional relationship?  Will they grow as a couple or eventually outgrow each other? Beneath the childish outbursts and the silly misadventures, these questions are essentially the driving force behind the film. The relationship in itself appears to be special; it works cloaked in secrecy but if it will remotely survive once assimilated to a normal day-to-day relationship is something that these characters have to ponder. Sadly, the movie, like its source material, conveniently skirts around providing an easy answer. The fact of the matter is that it's simply unresolved and these characters are about to encounter a fork in the road.

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Give or take a few months, the movie pretty much picks up where it left off---with the main pair still committed to having their "breathers", achieving a comfortable rhythm to their private S/M play while publicly assuming their respective positions in the high school social order.

At this point, viewers can be fairly certain that Kaoru's (Tochihara Rakuto)  feelings for his childhood friend run deeper but he's ever conscious of the fact that he's not a worthy match for her. He takes solace in the knowledge that Nana (Aono Miku) trusts and depends on him for her breathers and that he's seen sides of her that others have not. Nana, for her part, is genuinely fond of Kaoru and thinks of their breathers as something that's indispensable to her. She has no qualms about acknowledging Kaoru's presence even when she's with her own crowd.

And the current arrangement works. They get to meet intermittently and together explore their proclivity for bondage and sadomasochism without interference or judgment. The only problem is that they're about to commence their last year in high school and the thought of parting ways after graduation looms over them like a dark cloud.

If this were any other teen flick, any apprehension about the future could be easily dispatched through one last spring/summer outing, but given that this is anything but your ordinary teen flick, this supposedly sentimental trip to Nagano's power spots is as good as any excuse to further their bizarre relationship. Interestingly enough, the use of this tired device does provide some much needed comic relief and alone time for the central characters to interact outside of their usual environs. The trip in itself, aside from producing a hilarious segment involving the surrender of Nana's "heavenly vestments" and an overnight stay at a mystical cottage, sees Nana and Kaoru trying to push conventional boundaries on top of trying to define their relationship.

As a teen sex comedy film, Nana to Kaoru: Chapter 2, like its predecessor, is the cinematic equivalent of what blue-balled suitors nowadays would refer to as a cock tease. It's naughty and playful, and while there's a heavy sexual undertone to it, it's never truly malicious or unkind. Writer and director Atsushi Shimizu should be credited for maintaining that delicate balance of letting viewers experience laughter, mild shock and tender sentiment in the course of watching an odd tale of sexual awakening. And it's all cleverly done with the idea of infusing it with enough heart and contrived sincerity to make its ribald attributes a bit more tolerable.

As an exploitation film, it thrives on Kaoru's lurid imagination, his bag of toys and of course, Nana's willingness to play along. For the most part, it's all fun and games aside from that one pivotal scene in the Wandering House of Sarashina where the characters progress their level of play to spanking. It's the only scene that is truly uncomfortable to watch. Much more than the depiction of bondage, it's intrusive and off-putting, especially upon seeing that welt on Aono Miku's camera-ready derrière.

But then again, whatever misgivings may be had for such delicate scenes is consoled by a display of doubt and concern on the part of its characters. It seamlessly transitions raunchy encounters to doe-eyed attempts at earnestness, such that potentially scandalous and abusive behavior is effectively written off as an unorthodox expression of love. To soften the blow (pun intended), Nana and Kaoru are always shown to be unsure and insecure, and while they're able to voice their thoughts out loud for the audience to hear, the one person who's supposed hear it is shown to be equally lost in his/her musings. This is what makes the franchise such a good cheat.

The set-up allows for a complex relationship that is capable of progressing to new heights, exploring an evolved sense of intimacy, all the while being a paradoxically stunted romance between socially awkward teenagers. It must be pointed out that it's the blush of first love that makes the film appear harmless. It's unique in a sense that it is able to fashion sadomasochism as a bridge and an experimental dalliance---when in reality it's designed to blur the lines, serving as both hook and main attraction to an unfinished serial.  


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