Friday, April 30, 2010

Reeling and Rocking

A year or so ago I reviewed the Japanese girl rock movie, Linda Linda Linda, or rather, kind of reviewed it, while linking to a YouTube clip of the title song. I love that movie to pieces. So when one of my correspondents told me that they liked another Japanese girl rock movie better, I was intrigued. The movie in question is Nana (2005, directed by Kentarô Ôtani), which is based in turn on a manga. The movie itself isn't especially concerned with the healing power of rock and roll as an object unto itself (as Linda Linda Linda was), so much as it uses music as a plot device. It could be anything, really.

Anyway, the plot of the movie follows two girls who are named Nana who meet by happenstance on a train to Tokyo. The first Nana, who we first meet in a pre-credit concert sequence, is an aspiring rock star.  She is world weary and jaded already even though she's only 20. The other Nana is going to Tokyo in pursuit of a boyfriend who went off to art school there. The second Nana is a gushing schoolgirl at first. Naive is putting things mildly. Things end badly with her boyfriend, who clearly doesn't want her around him. Also by happenstance, the two Nanas wind up as roommates. It's a mutually beneficial relationship: rocker Nana teaches schoolgirl Nana to be independent, while schoolgirl Nana plays matchmaker for rocker Nana and her ex-boyfriend (now a successful rock star in his own right).

This all sounds fun, but it turns out limp. I think I knew it was going to be limp when it got into the habit of starting songs as diegetic musical numbers and then truncating them, almost like the filmmakers didn't actually have complete songs to play with (it eventually gets out of this habit, but the damage was done early; it's also likely that this was a casualty when the run-time of the film got long, unfortunately). I didn't dislike the movie, which should relieve my friend who recommended it, but I did resent that it wasn't better, and I wish it was more in love with rock and roll, and in love with better rock and roll at that. That's NOT a problem that Linda Linda Linda had.

The three men profiled in It Might Get Loud (2008, directed by Davis Guggenheim) don't have a problem with loving rock and roll. They are, respectively, Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White. The movie opens with White cobbling together a one string guitar from a board, a couple of nails, a coke bottle, and a pick-up. White is endlessly inventive. All three are endlessly inventive in their respective ways, about which the movie goes into in great depth. The conceit is that they've all three been assembled into a warehouse to talk about playing guitar and maybe to play some, too, which is the promise that the movie makes. Then it fails to deliver on it. Oh, there's a ton of guitar. True. But you don't really see the three of them come together and jam until they play The Band's "The Weight" under the closing credits. It's a good way to keep the audience in their seat during the closing credits, I guess, but it seems like a cheat. You never really have a sense of them interacting. One wishes that White's prediction at the outset, that "there might be a fist fight," had come true.

Still, it is a fair portrait of each guitarist in turn, with Jimmy Page coming off the best--he's really turned into a lovely old man with a twinkle of a boy still in him--as evidenced while watching him play air guitar to Link Wray's "Rumble" or playing air guitar with a theremin. It's White, though, that makes the strongest statement about the nature of his art, when he plays a Son House song and then declares that he's spent his entire career trying to play that song. In one other respect, the movie is a success: it makes me want to go home and play guitar.

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