The World Of Kanako (Kawaki)
Japan (2014) Dir. Tetsuya Nakashima
This is not an easy film to watch. I appreciate that is not the first thing one wants to read in a review but it has to be said. Tetsuya Nakashima has left the colourful bubblegum world of his breakthrough hit Kamikaze Girls behind in the far distance, taking the compelling bleakness of his last masterwork Confessions into unchartered territory with The World Of Kanako.
Based on the controversial bestselling 2004 novel Hateshinaki Kawaki by Akio Fukamachi, the titular Kanako (Nana Komatsu) is the enigma whose disappearance is behind this sprawling, blood soaked, depraved mystery thriller. Kanako’s ex-cop father Akikazu Fujishima (Koji Yakusho) receives a frantic phone call from his ex-wife Kiriko (Asuka Kurosawa) about their 17 year-old daughter’s absence. Having found some drugs in Kanako’s bags Akikazu begins his independent investigation into her whereabouts, uncovering the shocking truth about the daughter he thought he knew.
On the surface we have your typical “father searching for his lost daughter” mystery thriller but Nakashima and Fukamachi go above and beyond to subvert this notion, with its labyrinthine plotting and psychological assault on the senses. There is so much more to this film than meets the eyes to the point it almost defies categorisation, thanks to the many plot devices and extreme content which dips its toes into many a subgenre.
The reason for Kanako’s parents divorcing was down to Akikazu’s drinking and violent behaviour. Since then he lives in an alcoholic stupor supported by prescription medication while working menial jobs including security guard at a convenience store. When three people are killed under his watch, it is then he receives the call from a worried Kiriko, and is propelled into action when they seem to be acquaintances of Kanako’s.
Discovering the drugs was the first shock revelation; talking to her school friends paints a different picture of his daughter to the one he knew, including her involvement in wild sex parties, prostitution and blackmail. Akikazu adopts the default parental stance of someone else obviously pulling the strings but the truth contradicts this. A boy is also involved, a mercilessly bullied classmate (Hiroya Shimizu) who also acts as the film’s narrator, and while he is the obligatory fool who succumbs to Kanako’s charms, his story is also wrapped in a dark shroud of ambiguity.
It may become clear that Kanako was not the chaste snow white daughter Akikazu believed in but what clouds the investigation into her whereabouts is the extent of her various connections. Is it by sheer coincidence that every lead Akikazu gets, that person or people wind up dead shortly after? Why is Akikazu’s former underling Detective Asai (Satoshi Tsumabuki) so keen to undermine the investigation when they are both looking for the same thing? Who was really supplying the drugs to whom and what part in this does the Yakuza play?
Even by the half way mark we are no closer to getting any answers; in fact, there are more questions arising than anything. At this point the cast list has expanded exponentially and a sense of clutter forms in keeping up with who is who. Some figures maintain a key spot at the forefront of the story with their positions often changing as the various nets close in on them, but the way they are all cleverly intertwined is a testament to the superbly constructed script.
Remarkably hardly any of the characters possess any redeeming qualities, an alarming realisation we reach quite early on. For example, Kiriko’s own alcohol problem and infidelity was just as culpable in the marriage split but the eye watering physical abuse she receives from Akikazu is still not justified. Is it any wonder Kanako ended up as she did?
Nakashima goes from the jugular from the outset of this film with a quick cut edit nightmare prologue which sets the scene, offers some exposition and introduces the main players. It is followed by a kitsch pulp-esque opening sequence with funky graphics which confusingly might fool some viewers into thinking this is a black comedy. Employing many production tricks like animation, music video presentation and jarring editing techniques, the story unfolds like a series of feverish hallucinations.
The danger of this yarn being an excuse for depicting unfettered and gruesome violence is offset by the central theme of parental attention to their children. It’s a simple concept but Fukamachi intends to shock us into submission to take it on board. As much as this is a brutal cautionary tale for parents to take a deeper interest in their kid’s lives it serves as a frightening indictment of what sort of people are having kids these days and the scumbags who are out to corrupt them.
Nakashima has assembled a superb and name heavy cast willing to risk their reputations by sinking to these depths of depravity, including Miki Nakatani, Joe Odagiri, Ai Hashimoto, Fumi Nikaido and Jun Kunimura, all of whom embrace every moment of their screen time to bring this dark story to life.
However it is the two central performances which deserve special praise. Nana Komatsu is a young fashion model who has never acted before, but she holds her own against her established cast mates, creating a beguilingly fragrant yet chilling broken doll in Kanako. Veteran Koji Yakusho portrays Akikazu as a crass, hot headed, unrepentant war machine yet his internal fragility is palpable. It is astounding that such a beast wins the viewer over with his dogged determination and no-nonsense, if questionable, tactics.
With the constant gasps of “he actually went there!” Nakashima has thrown down the gauntlet to contemporaries Sion Sono and Takashi Miike and declared “Top that – if you dare”! The World Of Kanako is a relentless and remorseless onslaught of brutality and psychological warfare, that will likely cause as much discomfort as it does moral discussion. A sublime but uncompromising viewing experience that won’t be easily forgotten.