Nana: The American Cut
As I suggest in Nana: The Musical (Part 1), my Nana film would use social issues as a back drop, but would primarily be about the music (where Streets of Fire was dubbed “A Rock n’ Roll Fable,” Nana would be “An Indie Rock n’ Roll Fable”). The story is set primarily in Brooklyn’s indie rock scene, which is where the Nanas live and work. Both Nanas are from Pennsylvania and are nicknamed “Nana” – goth Nana (Nanesha Jones) is from south Philadelphia while naive Nana (Nanette Kennedy) is from the Philly burbs. Nanesha is African American and is also a rock star working the various Philly area rock clubs with her band Blast for several years until her boyfriend/band bassist Wren is offered a spot with an up and coming Brooklyn indie rock band called Trapnest. A year later, with her career stagnating in Philly, Nanesha decides to move to Brooklyn as an attempt to jumpstart it.
Meanwhile, Nanette is several years out of high school, and has failed out of Bucks County Community College where she was studying art. Nanette is white, blonde, and comes from a middle class family. Her boyfriend, Shawn, whom she met at the college, transferred to the New School in New York and has moved to Brooklyn. After a year of saving up by working at a movie theater, Nana prepares to join him in Brooklyn. The Nanas coincidently take the last New Jersey Transit train of the evening from Philly to Trenton to catch a train from Trenton to Penn Station in NYC. Unfortunately, the train to Penn Station breaks down at the station, so both Nanas have to stay the night in the station’s waiting area. While wandering around the crowded lounge looking for a seat, Nanette trips over Nanesha’s guitar case and hits the floor. Nanesha helps her up, and Nanette asks her if she can take the seat on which Nanesha’s guitar case was leaning. While engaging in some small talk, the Nanas discover they share the same nickname and destination. Emboldened with a feeling of kinship, Nanette proceeds to inundate Nanesha with her plans to live with her boyfriend in New York. When they finally reach the City the next morning, Shawn is waiting for Nanette at the station and Nanesha quickly disappears into the crowd.
After about a week of living with each other, Nanette and Shawn decide it would be better for her to move out and find a job, so she begins looking for apartments in Brooklyn. Nanette and Nanesha coincidentally arrive at the same time to view a spacious and affordable apartment in Bay Ridge (sorry, fictional indulgence) and argue with the landlord about which of them was there first. Nanette proposes they share the apartment, and persuades a reluctant Nanesha to become her roommate. The film goes on to portray Nanette and Nanesha as they find jobs (Nanette stumbles through a string of jobs from a telemarketing company to a second-hand clothing store), and negotiate their sometimes rocky relationship. Former band mates from Nanesha’s band in Philly turn up, and they befriend Nanette. The members of Nanesha’s band decide to reform and begin playing venues in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Nanaesha is haunted by feelings for Wren as images of his success in the various clubs where she plays constantly remind her of him. The Nana’s developing relationship and her music career distract Nanesha from the pain she feels over the broken relationship.
One of my favorite scenes in the Japanese Nana movie takes place in a music club similar to the various clubs and bars in Williamsburg that host rock performances. Unless a band is super popular, there are usually just a few dozen people at the most hanging around to see a show or snooker up to the bar. Naïve Nana and her best friend from home are positioned directly in front of the stage waiting to see Blast’s first set in Tokyo while everyone else in the venue is hanging out at the bar. When goth Nana steps up to the mic and says “Good evening, we’re the Black Stones,” over the buzz of the bar patrons no one but the two friends are paying attention. The band begins its set with the film’s signature song “Glamorous Sky” (apparently a huge hit in Japan) and midway through the song the kids at the bar take notice and approach the stage. Having never seen goth Nana sing before an audience, naïve Nana is so captivated by her friend’s performance that she fails to sense the gathering crowd until she is violently pushed forward by the force of the bodies rushing to get closer to the band.
This scene would also find itself in Nana: The American Cut, taking place in a Williamsburg club, with Blast opening up for a couple of other indie bands in front of, initially, a pretty sparse crowd. Once Blast starts to heat up and play some tunes, everyone leaves the bar and hits the stage to check out the band. I once had an experience at a Dragons of Zynth show at the recently deceased Glasslands Gallery (RIP) where several artists from various Brooklyn bands showed up to check out and support the band, the most prolific being Kip Malone from TV on the Radio. I want dudes like Malone hanging out at Blast’s debut Brooklyn performance as well and take notice when they play some tunes.
Meanwhile, Shawn has been working at a restaurant in Williamsburg, where Nanette often visits him and eats. A young Russian woman named Sasha (short for Alexandra in Russian) from one of his art courses gets a job at the restaurant as a server and they begin a friendly relationship, eventually taking the subway together to work from school (their shift ends when the restaurant closes at midnight). Shawn often walks Sasha to her bus stop to catch a cross-Borough bus to Sunnyside in Queens. One evening in the pouring rain, Sasha just misses the bus, and rather than having her stand in the rain for the next one (which probably won’t be along for another 45 minutes), Shawn offers to let her crash at his place in Williamsburg. After that night (most likely of fornicating), the two begin an affair, about which Shawn keeps secret from his friends and Nanette.
One evening, Nanette decides she will meet Shawn at work when the restaurant closes. Nanette is concerned that it’s too late to be out alone, so she begs Nanesha to take the subway with her up to Williamsburg. Nanesha goes along begrudgingly only after Nanette promises to clean the apartment every day for the next month. When the Nanas arrive at the restaurant, they decide to hang out in front of the place for a few minutes while Nanesha has a smoke. After a few minutes, Shawn and Sasha walk out of the place holding hands as he is in the middle of explaining that he plans to break up with Nanette. In shock, Nanette freezes and then runs off down the street, while Nanesha screams at the boyfriend for his deceptive nature. She then takes off after Nanette and finds her shriveled up in a ball inside the Metropolitan Avenue subway station. Nanesha picks her up and gives her a long comforting hug, and then takes Nanette by the hand leading her to the G Train platform to make the return trip down to Bay Ridge.
These episodes gradually mark a turning point in the Nanas’ relationship from adoration (on Nanette’s side) and bouts of amusement and annoyance (on Nanesha’s side) to one of true affection between both of the young women. This is also a highly significant moment for the cultural and economic context which I discussed above. As individuals of African and European descent, these two women function as symbols of the cultural and economic split present in contemporary America. As a rock musician, Nanesha and some of the film’s other characters embody the crossing of the aesthetic divide that some black artists have already undertaken. Examples of black musicians firmly planted in the stereotypically white indie music genre are TV on the Radio, Santigold, Cold Specks, Dev Hines, Twin Shadow, Solange Knowles, Noelle Scaggs from Fitz and the Tantrums, and super recently Monica Martin from the indie buzz band Phox. I think white audiences of indie and alternative rock music (myself included) enthusiastically approve of this phenomenon. Aesthetics aside, the relationship also requires Nanesha to overcome any issues she might have hangin’ with a rich white girl from the burbs. Although Wren is also white, he was an urban kid, he rocked, and their back story is that he got her into performing music in the first place. Hence, Nanesha assigns a higher value to him than she might other whites.
While Nanette is clearly the weaker, and needier, figure of the two Nanas, the existence of that power differential alongside their racial and other cultural differences seems hardly notable in our contemporary social climate (at least not in the sensational fashion in which Tibbs maintained superiority over Steiger’s sheriff was in the 1960s). The racial and other cultural issues that her differences with Nanesha exemplify are not much of a concern for Nanette. And they shouldn’t be – after all, we are in the middle of the Obama-age when most of white America can comfortably consider people of African descent as equals so long as they have the educational and/or economic credentials to justify such consideration. What this phenomenon masks, however, is just how inherent racial inequality still is in our society. Just as Potier and Steiger discredited racial stereotypes in 1960s, I want my Nana-narrative, similar to films such as Precious, to examine (albeit briefly) the economic nature of racial inequalities that are often hidden from the public, especially in the context of the seeming in-existence of such inequalities during a historic period with a black president.
Nana: The American Cut will do this through flashbacks to the time period when she began performing with Blast exemplifying the economic circumstances to which many people of color in Philadelphia and other similar urban centers in America are exposed. Both the original manga and subsequent film utilize flashbacks to demonstrate goth Nana’s challenges during this time. She was orphaned as a little girl and raised by her grandmother who died shortly before the story begins. Several scenes depict goth Nana as a high school dropout befriended by former schoolmate Nobu, who subsequently introduces her to Ren. Ren takes a liking to Nana and they begin dating. He teaches her how to play guitar and recognizes that she has some vocal talent. Ultimately, they form a band called the Black Stones (or the better-sounding abbreviated Blast), which includes Nobu on guitar. At one point during the flashbacks, Nana remarks that Ren’s intervention gave her a reason to live after the death of her grandmother.
In similar fashion, Nanesha is recovering from a heroin addiction and the pain of losing her mother who died of cancer and raised Nanesha as a single parent in South Philly’s Grey’s Ferry projects. Nana spends most of her time hanging around South Street when she meets Robert who later takes her to a concert where Wren is playing guitar for a punk band. After the show, Robert introduces Nanesha to Wren and they eventually begin dating and move in together. Wren helps Nanesha overcome her drug habit, teaches her to play guitar, and encourages her to develop her singing voice. They eventually form a band together with Wren on bass, Robert on guitar, and a super cool dude named Yaz on drums. After playing about a year’s worth of successful gigs in the Philly and south Jersey area, Wren is contacted by old friends from a rising indie rock band in Brooklyn band called Trapnest, which needs a bass player for an upcoming nationwide tour.
Yaz – A Super Cool Dude
The other thread in this story (which develops through the second half of the film) is Nanesha’s unresolved feelings for Wren. By the midpoint of the film, he has no idea that she has moved to Brooklyn (she has purposely avoided him). She also hasn’t told Nanette that she used to date him (Trapnest has become quite popular in New York, and Nanette has a huge crush on the band’s guitarist, Ted). One evening Nanette asks Nanesha to take a trip home with her to see Trapnest at the Union Transfer in Philly (Nanette is unaware of the history between Nanesha and Wren and just wants to see her current favorite band in her home town), and Nanesha reluctantly agrees. During the Trapnest’s performance, Wren notices Nanesha and before the band goes out for the encore, Wren calls Yaz to ask him why she is there. Yaz explains that Nanesha has been living in Brooklyn and her roommate Nanette brought her to the show.
At this point, I should mention one of the key, yet heretofore ignored, characters – Yasu. In the Nana manga, Yasu is Blast’s drummer (I’ve changed his name from Yasu to Yaz – somehow the “z” sounds cooler). He’s a slick dude with a shaved head and a suave demeanor. Drumming is mostly a recreational activity for Yaz as he recently graduated from law school and is working for a Philadelphia law firm. Several months after Nanesha has departed for Brooklyn, Yaz ascertains that she is emotionally needy while living so close to Wren – she also needs a drummer to recreate Blast. One night he shows up at the Nana’s apartment and announces he’s moving to the Big Apple to rejoin the band. When asked about his position at the Philly law firm, Yaz announces he has left it, and there are plenty of firms looking for young lawyers in the City. In the Manga, goth Nana is relieved with the notion that Yasu will be close to her and she immediately embraces him.
Like Nanette, Yaz is African American, tall, and dark-skinned. My image of him is a young Laurence Fishburne from Apocalypse Now. I imagine him as the emotional glue that holds the characters together (as he is in the manga). Everyone loves and respects Yaz, because he is cool, smart, and expresses a caring attitude towards those around him. An additional intriguing aspect of Yaz’s character is that he used to be romantically involved with the lead singer of Trapnest, Reira, before she became a big time pop star. There are also some ambiguous hints in the manga story of romantic attraction between goth Nana and Yasu. For example, when Ren calls Yasu to find out what Nana was doing at the show, Yasu ends their conversation by remarking that if Ren doesn’t go after Nana, then he will. My film version of the story will definitely emphasize these relationships revolving around Yaz.
The dramatic tension at the end of the Nana: The American Cut revolves around the rekindling relationship between Wren and Nanesha. I hate to feel bounded by the traditional melodramatic devices that enslave the multitude of American movies (especially chick flicks), employing conflict created through some kind of misunderstanding between the protagonists or a misdeed that one or both has committed and their subsequent reconciliation. I really like the Japanese film ending for its sheer simplicity – there is a little strain brought upon by Ren and goth Nana’s reconciliation, but the film winds down to a cute completion. This works because of the compelling nature of the characters and the “to be continued…” feeling of a film based on very long series of graphic books. In the Japanese film, “the dramatic tension” begins even before the main events of the film, communicated through flashbacks of Ren bailing out on his relationship with Nana to move to Tokyo and join Trapnest. The film employs the notion that goth Nana still loves Ren, but is too stubborn to reach out to him so naïve Nana and Yasu conspire to get them back together.
In Nana: The American Cut (similar to the Japanese film and manga), the Nanas travel to Philadelphia and attend the concert where Wren sees Nanesha in the audience. This segment of the film provides some gushy, sentimental moments. Nanette takes Nanesha to her palatial home somewhere on the Mainline in the Philly burbs. Nanesha is apprehensive about the visit because she is not sure she wants to see Wren and is also afraid Nanette’s parents will feel uncomfortable hosting an African American young woman with an alternative appearance. Instead of treating her with judgmental disdain, (much to Nanesha’s disbelief) Nanette’s family embraces and gushes all over Nanesha for befriending and taking care of Nanette in Brooklyn.
Later in the evening, the Nanas attend the concert, and when Trapnest leaves the stage before the encore, Wren calls Yaz to find out why Nanesha is there. Yaz gives Wren Nannette’s cell number (Nanesha doesn’t have one because she is too poor) and tells him to call Nanesha. Wren sends a text to Nanette’s phone to see if Nanesha wants to meet – Nanette posing as Nanesha agrees. Yaz gets a hold of Wren’s hotel key and gives it to Nanesha explaining that she should go see him. Nanesha initially intends to deliver Wren’s key and give him the big FU for leaving her for New York, but in the course of an argument between them regarding who did what, they fall back into each other’s arms.
With the issue of Wren and Nana’s romance settled, the Japanese film ends on a comedic note while the members of Blast and Trapnest (accept for Reira) sit around in the Nanas’ apartment (naïve Nana is absent). As a gift to naïve Nana for helping her hook back up with Wren, goth Nana arranges for the Trapnest’s guitarist, Takumi (on whom naïve Nana has an epic crush) to answer the door when she gets home from work. Once the door opens and she discovers her pop idol crush, naïve Nana begins to cry and collapses. A befuddled Takumi turns back to his friends in the apartment and reports, “she’s crying” to the laughter of the group. As Nana enters the apartment with tears smiling with the films ends.
That’s certainly adorable, but my conclusion intends to reemphasize some of the themes of race, social, class and cultural reconciliation that I discuss above. The primary tension in both my film and the Yazawa comic revolves around the progression Nanesha makes to embrace her relationship with Nanette, which is wrought with reluctance brought on by the girls’ social differences. Nanesha’s resolution regarding her friendship with Nanette facilitates the dramatic conclusion of my Nana film.
After Nanesha and Wren’s reconciliation, the girls return to their lives in Brooklyn. Nanette gets fired from her office job for goofing around and making stupid mistakes and returns that evening to find members of both bands (Trapnest and Blast) hanging out at their apartment. Nanette is visibly upset about being fired and irritated that people are hanging out in her apartment. Before she can storm to her room, however, Nanesha grabs Nanette, quickly explains that she needs to pay her back for getting her back together with Wren, and gives her a big, wet French kiss.
Although this is not how the Japanese film ends, it is culled from a great moment in Yazawa’s comic. Rather than trying to depict some sort of homoerotism between the two friends, Yazawa attempts to portray here how the relationship between the two has solidified. In this moment, goth Nana’s normal cool and impersonal demeanor breaks for a moment to demonstrate a moment of playfulness and intimacy, but it also represents an expression of gratitude to naïve Nana and demonstrates that the bond between the two Nanas is strong, mutual, and lasting. I would replicate this moment in my film at the conclusion, because I think it powerfully demonstrates the extent to which these girls have overcome conflicts with each other connected to cultural and economic differences between them. Although Nanesha clearly maintains the power in the duo’s relationship, she concedes a deep affection for Nanette and the willingness to maintain their friendship.
I love the idea of the movie ending at a Brooklyn club as all of the characters leave the Nanas’ apartment to head to Williamsburg to catch some awesome band like TV on the Radio at the Williamsburg Theatre (as if there would be tickets available). I also envision the end of the film slightly mimicking the conclusion of Streets of Fire with some of the characters performing two songs in a concert setting. As Kip Malone from TV on the Radio had caught Blast perform their first set, Malone notices Nanesha and the other members of Blast in the audience and invites her on stage to perform a song, which plays while the film credits role.
Music is cool, and I write about it sometimes.