Back in 2012, 16-year-old Nana Komatsu was a young model and still at school. She used to travel to Tokyo on week-ends for her photoshoots and did not consider an acting career then. In 2014, much to her surprise, she was asked to audition for The World of Kanako, the next opus from famous director Tetsuya Nakashima.
She was reluctant but encouraged by relatives and friends she went to the audition. She was hired right away after a brief interview and the rest is history now. She has starred in many films since then and worked with very different directors: Takahiro Miki, Bernard Rose, Akihiko Shiota, Martin Scorsese, Hideyuki Hirayama or Akira Nagai to name just a few.
A much sought after actress and known for being extremely versatile Nana Komatsu is most certainly one of the best representatives of the ‘Old School’ approach to acting in the Japanese film industry (and beyond). When nuance and subtle body language prevail over wordiness, when emotion is conveyed through the eyes, you’re ‘old school’ but there’s more to it, Nana Komatsu does have a few add-ons: a surprising ability to suddenly embrace rage and also a playful side which comes close to eccentricity.
Some films are available on NetFlix, Amazon Prime Video, Mubi, Outbuster and other online services on a regular basis, you can get a few DVDs with English subs from Amazon USA and all the original Japanese DVDs and Blurays can be purchased from CD Japan.
The following ‘guide’ is not based on movie genres, alphabetical order or date of release but rather on her performance in each and every film. Going to the movies is like going to the restaurant somehow, also the actress has a solid reputation as a food loving person, so this presentation makes sense in many ways. Here’s the Menu right below: you’ll get appetizers only, i.e. trailers and short scenes.
⭐ = the blogmaster’s choice
Closed Ward (2019): Closed Ward aka Family Strangers is a moving and quite realistic story about friendship, support and loyalty within a small group of people isolated from society. As Yuki Shimazaki, a young outpatient in the psychiatric ward of a hospital, Nana Komatsu delivers one of her very best perfs. Most of the film she remains sort of silent like a prisoner in a cage of suffering, yet, her eyes and expressions do tell a lot. Tension gradually rises until the trial scene during which words eventually flow.
Destruction Babies (2016): a very special role and character in this violent, nihilistic and hard to watch movie. Nana Komatsu is a hostess who works for the Yakuza. She is a haughty and unfriendly woman who generates empathy at some point because of her ordeal (kidnapping and abuse) but soon the victim becomes a perpetrator. The actress steals the show in one memorable and brutal murder scene, this one is also a great acting moment: watch her eyes and facial expressions as she checks if the cops are buying her bag of lies.
Drowning Love (2016): though the movie belongs to the ‘youth movie-live action’ category, it stands apart thanks to the talent of Director Yuki Yamato who built a rather sad and dark tale with strong aesthetics. Another asset is of course the acting with a good ensemble cast and the two leads (Komatsu and Suda) giving their best in an awesome display of onscreen chemistry, it’s like they are enhancing each other. Nana Komatsu’s role as Natsume is a good sample of where she was at the time: the overall ‘old school’ foundation of her style with forays into the eccentric through an impressive range of human emotions. ⭐
Farewell Song (2019): slow paced and beautifully filmed, Farewell Song (さよならくちびる) is some sort of musical road movie. With Leo/Reo you get the full Nana Komatsu equipment: the ‘old school’ basis, the bouts of anger plus the oddities. When love life and even friendship amount to misery, there’s a flicker of hope with the music and its possible dreams of glory. ⭐
Song performed by Mugi Kadowaki and Nana Komatsu
The World of Kanako (2014): What a debut! Playing true evil in her first feature film must have been some experience. In a 2019 interview, Nana Komatsu said that Nakashima’s clever editing was what made Kanako’s role a great role. She’s always humble but she was selling herself short there. Her perf as Kanako was solid and convincing, her lack of acting experience unnoticeable as she shared scenes with seasoned thespians such as Koji Yakusho or Miki Nakatani. ⭐
Kuru (2018): more than four years after Kanako, director Nakashima called her again for a juicy part as Makoto Higa in Kuru-It Comes. It was a solid supporting role with quite a lot of screen time in the second half of the movie. On top of spectacular looks -which sometimes required up to three hours of preparation- you get a good dose of the ‘explosive’ Komatsu when she suddenly changes mode from calm to violent behaviour, with bouts of rage or anger in several captivating scenes. In this one, she confronts boy friend Nozaki (Jun’ichi Okada) ⭐
Though most of those movies belong either to the romantic comedy or live action categories (except Samurai Marathon and Ito of course), they deal with very different themes. In those films, there is not much room for unexpectedly spectacular emotional peaks, not much either for the odd or eccentric stuff but they offer the core of her acting style: natural, nuanced, subtle and spontaneous. Her screen presence, eye and body language are the main ingredients, hence the ‘Classic’ Komatsu label.
Samurai Marathon (2019): talking about ‘screen presence’, this film is a nice catch, whether dressed as a princess or in soldier’s attire, Nana Komatsu is great to watch. Samurai Marathon is a very entertaining piece in which British director Bernard Rose mixed action, comedy and drama, history and modernity. As some critic put it, Nana Komatsu is a rose with a few thorns there as you’ll see her handle knives and swords. ⭐
My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday (2016): a very unhappy romantic comedy with a touch of fantasy, possibly one of the very best Takahiro Miki’s films. Nana Komatsu is perfect for the role as the sweet and unfortunate Emi, empathy for her character comes out naturally just like her acting. If one’s looking for a typical ‘old school’ perf from the actress, that’s the one to watch.
Ito/Tapestry (2020): definitely a mainstream dramedy but a quality one. The film is a moving journey through time and space. From Hokkaido to Okinawa via Singapore and Tokyo, the destiny of two human beings who fell in love when they were kids during the Heisei era and reunite at the beginning of the Reiwa era in their early thirties. Very good ensemble cast and once again the Suda-Komatsu combo works fine. The actress portrays a young woman who goes through a lot of hardship but manages to stay free, independent and strong. ⭐
Koi Ame (2018): good editing and fine acting from a very good ensemble cast make Koi Ame aka After the rain a very entertaining watch. The theme -a relationship between a high school girl and a mature man- could have led to disaster but the movie cleverly avoids any questionable or risqué situations. Nana Komatsu portrays Akira Tachibana with adequate strength in quite a remarkable display of reserve, inner tension and sensitivity.
Kids on the slope (2018): a sweet coming-of-age dramedy in which jazz music is the main background. Nana Komatsu is Ritsuko, a high school girl and a member of the Christian community of Sasebo in the Nagasaki Prefecture. Friendly, considerate and loyal, she is a girl who cares. Light as it seems, the film has a deep flavor of nostalgia. Ritsuko Mukae is possibly her nicest on screen character, her performance is sweet and delicate. ⭐
Close Range Love (2014): definitely not the best film she’s been in, the storyline is kind of cliché and everything is predictable in this romantic movie. That being said, her performance in the film is decent enough. She has to portray a high school girl who is socially awkward and emotionally immature to the point she can’t even properly express what she really feels: a brilliant student yet a lonely girl. Her performance is simple and sober but quite effective.
Maniac Hero (2016): clearly an Unidentified Film Object Maniac Hero is not just a silly-goofy comedy, it also delivers a few messages about powers vs power and responsibility. Nana Komatsu is Kaori, a nerd-looking girl who joins a group of vigilantes to fight crime… her looks will drastically change at some point but she’ll stick to her guns anyway. She’s hilarious throughout.
Kurosaki-kun (2016): the TV film (Black Devil and White Prince) and the movie surely helped Nana Komatsu build a strong fanbase among the younger public. Both are comedies -the TV version being some sort of prequel- and they are entertaining enough even if the gender relationship depicted in those is a bit disturbing, even with two pinches of salt. However, the actress is really funny and has a gift for making faces.
Thrill ! The Red Chapter (2017): this is not a film but an NHK drama broadcast in 2017. In this series of 4 episodes*, Nana Komatsu is Hitomi, a smart and nosy would-be detective who helps a true police officer to solve difficult cases. Using her playful side to the max this is possibly her best shot at comedy. Sheer delight ! ⭐
*there is another series called The Black Chapter in which Hitomi is only a secondary character
snacks and Desserts
Bakuman (2015): just like in the manga you don’t see much of Miho Azuki. Most of her scenes are just fillers and Nana Komatsu’s performance in Bakuman surely is her less convincing one, in this film her lack of experience shows. However there is one long scene (more than 5’) in which the actress is at last allowed to develop a bit and show her skills. As the two characters are bound to part, the emotional load is conveyed with adequate nuance making the ‘hospital scene’ one of the highlights of the film.
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures (2017): just a few scenes as Yukako in this Takashi Miike movie. With a long mane of black hair, Nana Komatsu is visually stunning and her poses enigmatic enough.
Silence (2016): 19 year-old Nana Komatsu passed a video audition to be part of a Scorsese adventure, Silence, a true masterpiece shot in Taiwan in 2015. It was just a supporting role and a few scenes but she did an excellent job, looking brave and hopeful playing Monica, a young country girl who had embraced the Christian faith. ⭐
Tadaima (2013): In fact, Nana Komatsu had a leading role in this touching story of a teenage girl who goes back to the place where the tsunami (March 11, 2011) took away her home and family. However it was just a short film, with a runtime of about 27’. Released in 2013 and hard to find at some point, the DVD is now available again from the Director’s Store. Nana Komatsu fans will surely enjoy watching her debut to find out that some of her acting characteristics were already there. More details: Tadaima Short Film.