Full marks for the technical side, but sadly becomes a very soulless, empty and misogynistic experience…
Tetsuya Nakashima’s nihilistic story of a bad man searching for his bad child is a painful, visceral and disturbing experience. With full marks for the technical side of things, sadly the film is a very becomes a very soulless, empty and misogynistic experience.
Director Nakashima (Confessions, Memories of Matsuko, Kamikaze Girls) once again choses to adapt a Japanese novel in The World Of Kanako, this time taking Akio Fukamachi’s Hateshinaki Kawaki as his inspiration. Central to the story is Fujishima (Koji Yakusho: Lakeside Murder Case, Cure) a divorced, bipolar, alcoholic ex-detective. After violently attacking his wife and her lover, his life has fallen apart. Both arts of his old life start to collide when he is not only the witness to a murder at the store he is the security guard for, but also his ex-wife (Asuka Kurosawa: A Snake of June) calls him out of the blue, panicked at the sudden disappearance of their teenage daughter, the titular Kanako (Nana Komatsu). Fujishima, fueled by some mistaken desire to bring his estranged family back together, starts to investigate. Many violent episodes later, he starts to uncover the truth behind his daughter, and maybe realise that the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree. Concurrently we see events from three years previously, with Kanko’s own relationship with a bullied student, Boku (Hiroya Shimizu), that helps the audience fill in the gaps with regards to just who the daughter really is.
There are great thing about his film. Nakashima has a super sense of design, both visually and in the soundtrack he uses. Fast cuts and out of sequence edits really get you into the confused mind of his protagonist. The violence (of which there is a lot) is visually and aurally painful. Whilst things are very confusing at the beginning (to match Fujishima’s state of mind), and the audience are asked to work quite hard to piece together the strands of the plot whilst dealing with this cinematic assault, we do get some respite in the somewhat calmer (although actually still fairly violent) story of three years previously. To another extreme, a drug fuelled party is also brilliantly executed.
It won’t come as a surprise to hear Yakusho is utterly brilliant. Because he always is. He manages to make a repulsive character with no redeeming features utterly compelling. I cannot use the word anti-hero here, because there is nothing about this fellow which vaguely approaches any concept of hero anyone could have. He is utterly incapable of dealing with the world through any language other than violence and rape, there is no arc of redemption here.
Other performances are pretty great also, newcomer Komatsu stands out in a “Laura Palmer-esque” role. Joe Odagiri (Princess Raccoon) gives great value in his only real scene (a role that really isn’t explained too well by the script). What you might make of Satoshi Tsumabuki’s (Waterboys) rather annoying/laconic lollipop sucking Policeman however will be potentially as decisive as your opinion of the film itself.
You’ll probably have seen these kinds of movies before, extreme violence full of people doing horrible things to other horrible people, and not just in the “extreme” Japanese cinema made famous by directors such as Miike, Sono and Tsukamoto. But in all these films you usually get some ray of hope. That there are people that are good in this world. Even without the possibility of personal redemption, that maybe our bad people are still better than the other really bad people, or that they are protecting people that represent something even better. Sadly, this film just doesn’t give you that feeling at all. We don’t spend any time with a single character who is not either reprehensible to the very core of their being, or has become a monster by association with the players in this cinematic world.
It pains me to give such a well crafted and superbly acted film such a low grade. But to spend two hours to find out that I have spent it in a world of such terrible, horrible people leads to an exhausting and fundamentally soulless experience. It turns out the moral of the story is that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, that bad people create bad people. I am as cynical and misanthropic a person as you could hope to meet, but even I need more than that. Previously Nakashima has dealt with some fairly dark subject matter, but I still felt I got some sense of joy and hope in his world. This film just made me upset and depressed. On the other hand, I didn’t walk out like a handful of fellow viewers did.
Appreciate the craft. Prepare yourself for an assault on your senses. Just don’t expect to feel particularly entertained.
The World of Kanako screened at the 58th BFI London Film Festival 2014.
The World Of Kanako was originally due for release by Third Window, who have now been forced to drop the title. Another UK distributor has picked up the film but at this stage we have no further details.