Scouted by a talent agency in Harajuku at the age of 12, model and actress Nana Komatsu got her on-screen break alongside Koji Yakusho in Tetsuya Nakashima’s 2014 suspense film The World of Kanako (Kawaki) and since then has been cast as the lead in various movies including the romantic dramas My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday (Boku wa Asu, Kino no Kimi to Deto Suru) and After the Rain (Koi wa Ameagari no You ni). She also appeared in Martin Scorsese’s 2016 religious epic Silence.

For our November 2019 cover, we photographed the 23-year-old Chanel ambassador at the rooftop garden of Ginza Six, a fitting location not only for our Shopping Issue, but also for the style icon for whom only the sky’s the limit.

The filming took place last winter for about a month at a real hospital in Nagano Prefecture,” Nana Komatsu tells TW after our cover shoot. “The atmosphere on set was different from anything I’d experienced before, and the role of Yuki was a tough one to play. She was raped by her stepfather and had a very painful past, so it was difficult from both a physical and mental perspective. There were times when I felt devastated during the shooting process, yet at the same time, I was able to look at the part objectively and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to appear in this film.”

“There were times when I felt devastated during the shooting process”

The model and actress, who’s fast cementing her position as one of the most exciting young performers in Japanese cinema, is discussing her latest role starring alongside Tsurube Shofukutei and Go Ayano in Hideyuki Hirayama’s crime drama Closed Ward (Heisa Byoutou). Based on Hosei Hahakigi’s novel of the same name, it’s a hard-hitting story about three patients from very different backgrounds at a psychological hospital. They appear to co-exist relatively peacefully until one of them is accused of murder. The suspect is Hidemaru Kajiki, a wheelchair-bound in-patient played by Shofukutei who was institutionalized after killing his mother and daughter-in-law. While in the hospital, he strikes up a bond with Chu (Ayano), a businessman who suffers from hallucinatory bouts that can lead to violence, and Yuki (Komatsu), a student and outpatient with a distressing history who often plays truant from school.

“I thought it was important to understand Yuki’s feelings, so I researched past incidents and materials before we started shooting,” continues the 23-year-old Tokyo native. “I spoke to a nurse who told me in a very straight, matter-of-fact way about a patient who jumped from the building. It struck me that these near-death occurrences happen all the time. This is a difficult thing for me to talk about in an interview like this because it’s a very sensitive topic and I don’t want people to take my answers the wrong way.”

Though the movie is quite dark at times, Komatsu feels Closed Ward is “surrounded in warmth,” with many touching scenes between characters who have a strong connection. The suspenseful story, written by Hahakigi in 1983, was based on a real event that took place at a mental health care center in Fukuoka’s Dazaifu Hospital. Komatsu decided against reading the novel before shooting began as she didn’t want to “shape a concrete image of the character,” which she felt could limit her imagination when acting.

Driven and strong-willed, Komatsu is determined to “broaden her skills while continuing to evolve as an actress.” She’s also thinking about the possibility of appearing on stage, something she never previously considered. It’s all a far cry from her younger days as a shy teen who lacked in confidence and felt she didn’t have the necessary skill set to work in the film industry.

“In the beginning, I didn’t think I would be good enough to be an actress because I didn’t like talking,” she says. “Working as a model you’re not required to speak so that was fine with me, but then I had the opportunity to audition for The World of Kanako. People encouraged me to go for it, so I thought why not? I was constantly puzzled at first because everything was new to me. At the same time, it was interesting and I quickly realized that it was something I wanted to pursue.”

Jacket ¥317,000, top ¥231,000, pants ¥128,000, heels ¥128,000 (prices without tax), all by Givenchy/Givenchy Omotesando Store

“My role in the movie was a key one, yet I literally knew nothing about the industry at that stage,” admits Komatsu. “I felt I wasn’t at the same level as the others. I was desperate to play the part as well as I could, however, I couldn’t keep up with the situation I was in. After The World of Kanako, I received offers to appear in other films, but at that stage, I didn’t believe I was ready to accept them. From an emotional perspective, it was a tough time. Being a competitive person, though, I always want to try harder to prove myself and that’s what I did.”

“This is a difficult thing for me to talk about in an interview like this because it’s a sensitive topic”

Despite her own self-doubts, Komatsu was widely praised for her performance as the seductive and sadistic eponymous heroine in The World of Kanako, winning Best Newcomer accolades at the Japan Academy Awards as well as the Hochi and Mainichi Film Awards. She has also been acknowledged for her fashion sense, being named The Most Artistic/Best Styled International Celebrity at the Elle Style Awards. Being an ambassador for Chanel, she is often seen adorning the famous French brand’s attire, however, when it comes to shopping for herself, she loves nothing more than scouring for vintage items at second-hand stores.

“I look for vintage wear in all kinds of areas such as Koenji, Harajuku and Shibuya,” says Komatsu. “I also try to find clothes in shops that sell men’s items. I think I’m definitely more into pants than skirts. That said, I do sometimes go for haute couture but not a lot of very high-end labels. There are some lovely Japanese shops I like to visit. It’s nice to mix domestic brands with vintage clothing.” 

A young style icon, Komatsu’s popularity continues to spread beyond these shores, particularly in Asia. Attending fashion shows around the globe, she’s now an internationally recognized model with more than 1.6 million followers on Instagram. She enhanced her profile further three years ago when she landed a part in Scorsese’s 2016 historical period drama Silence. Based on Shusaku Endo’s novel about 17th century Jesuit priests who were persecuted in Japan after the Shimabara Rebellion, it features a number of well-known Japanese actors such as Tadanobu Asano and Issei Ogata, as well as Hollywood stars like Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson.

“It was great being able to learn from foreign actors,” says Komatsu. “The whole process was different from what I was used to in Japan. It started from a video audition, which is something I’d never experienced before. On set, there was an American, Taiwanese and Japanese team. People usually used English to communicate, but as I can’t speak it very well, I relied on gestures, which was fun. There were days when we would cancel filming even though everyone had their make-up on and was ready to go. It’s about taking the time to create an amazing movie. Due to time restraints, that kind of thinking isn’t really possible in this country.”

In the future, Komatsu hopes to appear in more foreign films but also knows it’s important to continue working to enhance her reputation domestically, which she’s managed to do thanks to strong performances in movies such as Nakashima’s sci-fi thriller It Comes and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable Chapter I, a Takashi Miike flick based on Hirohiko Araki’s long-running and hugely successful manga series.

“I’ve played in a lot of movies that have been based on manga and they’re always enjoyable, but I prefer acting in roles that are more human-like,” admits Komatsu. “I like to imagine the personality of my character and think of how to express that in an interesting way. I want to show the director and everyone watching something that is beyond their expectations. I’ve received a number of Best Newcomer accolades as an actress; however, I haven’t got one as an experienced actress yet. That’s one of my future goals.”

Interview translation by Serina Doi.
Photographs by Allan Abani
Hair and makeup by Haruka Tazaki
Styling by Soichiro Kobayashi