By Jin Kiyokawa / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterNanase Nishino’s gentle character makes her one of the most popular members of Nogizaka46. She often takes center stage for the super idol group’s songs, and has also sung solos.
Having appeared in a number of TV dramas, commercials and events, the 23-year-old currently serves as an exclusive model for fashion magazine non-no, and also has a regular spot on a Fuji TV variety show.
However, it doesn’t seem quite right for Nishino to be described as “the standout member of Nogizaka46,” probably because she is quiet and modest, and not the type of person who pushes others aside to make herself stand out.
This might explain the way Nishino reacted when she was offered her first film lead role. “I just felt so nervous because I didn’t know if any other Nogizaka46 members would also appear in the film,” she said during a recent interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun. “However, as soon as I learned other members would be in it, I felt so relieved.”
In “Asahinagu,” now showing, Nishino stars as an honest high school girl who grows through practicing naginata, a martial art that uses halberd-like poles. The movie follows the play, staged earlier this year as part of a project based on the eponymous manga, with both adaptations featuring different Nogizaka46 members as the main characters.
Nishino said she was always with other Nogizaka46 members during filming. “It felt like doing real school club activities,” she said. “So I thought we would be able to show our teamwork and the bonds among us in a different way from our regular shows.”
Born in Osaka Prefecture, Nishino made her debut in 2012 while she was in high school, after winning an audition for Nogizaka46’s “first-generation” members. Having risen to stardom, she is like a delicately flickering star, in contrast to many other idol girls who shine brilliantly. Nogizaka46 is known for having a large pool of good performers — Nishino’s humble presence as a leading member apparently helps give others a chance to step into the spotlight.
Personality of contrasts
The manga “Asahinagu,” by Ai Kozaki, has been serialized in Big Comic Spirits magazine since 2011, and won the Shogakukan Mangasho award in fiscal 2014.
The protagonist, Asahi Tojima, is not very good at sports and belonged to an art club in her junior high school days. In high school, she joins the naginata club after being impressed with the spectacular performances of Maharu Miyaji (played by Mai Shiraishi), a second-year student and the core member of the club.
Thus, Asahi sets off on a journey to change herself. She is inspired by Nene Ichido (Erika Ikuta), a first-year student and good player at a rival school, and Jukei, a nun who trains the heroine’s club during a summer break. One day, however, Maharu stops coming to practices.
“I didn’t especially study how to play my part,” Nishino said, saying this was partly because she is somewhat similar to Asahi. “I didn’t have my hair cut short as other members did. I usually wear glasses [as the character does]. Also, I’m not good at sports, either.”
The first half of the film has many comical scenes, such as a close-up of the protagonist with her nostrils stuffed with tissues, but the highlight is the depiction of how naginata players engage in intense practice and competitions.
All the cast members undertook hard training in the martial art to shoot the film. What was more challenging for Nishino, however, was hitting her opponents hard with the naginata. “I don’t mind being hit at all, but I’m not the type of person who can take such action myself,” she said.
Toward the end of the film, Asahi speaks harshly to Maharu, the senior member she looks up to — a scene that will surely move anyone who sees it.
Nishino portrays how the awkward Asahi matures, and the contrasting aspects within the character may remind viewers of the Nogizaka46 member’s own personality: having a soft, slightly uncertain mood during talk shows but displaying powerful performances with confidence on stage and screen.
No matter how hard the naginata training and shooting was, Nishino “really enjoyed working with the staff and cast during filming,” she said. “I want to have more chances to act.”
Nogizaka46 has entered a new stage since the “third-generation” members joined in September last year. Nishino is adored by Yuki Yoda, one of the newcomers, and they often work together.
“I’m happy Yoda-chan likes me so much,” Nishino said. “But I don’t know why, as I don’t [single her out for] special care.”
Nogizaka46’s 18th single, “Nigemizu” (Mirage), was released in August. Yoda and another new member, Momoko Ozono, were selected to perform in the center of the front row for the song. The single had sold 1.01 million copies in Oricon’s weekly rankings as of Sept. 18 — the second time the group has achieved 1 million sales, following previous single “Influencer,” for which Nishino and Shiraishi performed in the center.
Their upcoming single, “Itsuka Dekiru kara Kyo Dekiru” (You can do it someday, so you can do it today), features the theme song for the “Asahinagu” film. The single will be released Oct. 11, with Nishino and Asuka Saito, who played the lead in the stage adaptation, performing in the center for the song.