Director: Tetsuya Nakashima
Producer: Satomi Kotake, Yutaka Suzuki
Cast: Koji Yakusho, Nana Komatsu, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Joe Odagiri, Fumi Nikaido, Hiroya Shimizu, Hiroki Nakajima, Ai Hashimoto, Asuka Kurosawa, Miki Nakatani, Hitoshi Hoshino, Mahiro Takasugi, Jun Kunimura, Munetaka Aoki
Running Time: 118 min.
By Paul Bramhall
While Japanese mainstream filmmaking has arguably been in a creative slump for a long time, there remains a few directors out there who are worth watching. Sono Sion, Miike Takashi, and Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano are all names that immediately spring to mind. While Tetsuya Nakashima may not be as much as a household name as the others, he’s certainly no less worthy of inclusion. His movies Kamikaze Girls and Memories of Matsuko quickly developed a cult following thanks to their hyper edited music video aesthetics and quirky pop culture style, however in 2010 he had a change of pace with Confessions. The story of a grieving school teacher looking to seek revenge on those responsible for the loss of her daughter, it was arguably his most mature work. While it still maintained his unique editing style, Confessions left a lasting impression because of its content rather than its style.
In 2014 Nakashima unleashed The World of Kanako, which is based on a book by Akio Fukamachi. While in Confessions Nakashima was presented with the problem that the actress he’d had in mind for the lead initially turned it down, here he must have got a sense of déjà vu, as the studio the movie was originally pitched to, the legendary Toho Company, flatly refused to make it. Thankfully he had success elsewhere, and The World of Kanako bursts onto the screen like a raging bull from the word go.
From a colorful and retro opening credits sequence, which immediately brings to mind the distinctive pulpy style of a 1960’s Nikkatsu noir (only with expletives like Go to Hell! spliced in at regular intervals) to the introduction of Koji Yakusho’s character, The World of Kanako grabs you by the throat immediately. Yakusho has been acting since the late 70’s, however is likely most recognizable as the leader of the 13 Assassins, in Miike Takashi’s 2010 remake of the same name. I use the term ‘most recognizable’ very loosely, as here he plays a disheveled former detective who’s reached rock bottom. A suspected schizophrenic manic depressive who’s both violent and sexually abusive, Yakusho is like a hellish hybrid of Kim Yoon-seok’s detective turned pimp from The Chaser, Takeshi Kitano’s Violent Cop, and Anthony Wong’s pill popping Bobby from Beast Cops.
When he receives a phone call from his ex-wife, in which she reveals their daughter Kanako hasn’t come home for several days, some kind of base parental instinct makes him crawl out from under the rock he’s been living under, and make an attempt to find her. The World of Kanako is a bold movie in that its central character that Yakusho portrays is completely unlikable, however to both his and Nakashima’s credit we remained glued to the screen in a desire to follow him down into the depths of his investigation. There’s a reference to falling down the rabbit hole from Alice in Wonderland in The World of Kanako, and it quickly becomes clear that we’re going to go down a rabbit hole which is very deep indeed.
Unlike his previous movies, here the hyper editing style has a specific link to the character we’re watching. The rapid cuts, and almost hallucinogenic nature of the images, play like a visual representation of the effect the prescribed pills Yakusho takes have on his brain. A perfect example is the recurring dream like perfect image that he keeps having, of what looks to be his former life with a happy wife and daughter in their family home. However at some point during the movie he wakes up in a drunken stupor, and we see the image he’s been having up until this point is actually a commercial for a new housing development that’s been playing on TV. Smart touches like this ensure Nakashima keeps the audience on their toes while watching.
It’s not long before both his ex-wife, and we as the viewer, begin to regret unleashing Yakusho back into the world, as soon he’s rampaging through Saitama beating people half to death, sexually assaulting women, and offering drugs to teenagers in an attempt to find the whereabouts of Kanako. But the more he uncovers, the more we realize that perhaps the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as Kanako increasingly becomes a figure that represents someone not entirely different from her father. The concept of hereditary insanity has been touched on before in the likes of Park Chan-wook’s Stoker, but whereas that movie used suspense and sudden outbursts of violence to convey its message, The World of Kanako goes for a more direct approach. The world the characters are living in here is one of a depraved nightmare, and Nakashima keeps us right in the thick of it throughout.
Kanako herself is played by newcomer Nana Komatsu, who delivers an effective performance that balances the fine line between innocence and psychosis. We learn of who she is in flashbacks to 3 years earlier, that see her develop a relationship with a bullied classmate while grieving for her boyfriend that committed suicide. To go into any more detail about her character would really involve going into spoiler territory, but for those who got a kick out of movies like Miike Takashi’s Audition, there should be enough in The World of Kanako to strike a similar chord, although it should be noted that no razor wire or needles are used here.
That being said, The World of Kanako at times becomes an extremely gruesome affair. Yakusho himself starts the movie in an already disheveled white suite, his face covered in a constant layer of sweat, and as events progress both the suit and his face gradually become more and more dirty, bloodied, and ripped. The arrival of Jo Odagiri as a corrupt cop, and a gang of yakuza, leads to a number of scenes which are borderline shocking in their level of violence and bloodshed, which for some will most likely be too much.
As you can easily tell, The World of Kanako is far from a happy movie, however it is an energetic one. The fast paced editing and plot is constantly thrust forward by a selection of tunes that would make Tarantino proud, both western and Japanese. The narrative structure is also thrown out of whack at several points, mixing up scenes and playing with time, which makes it difficult to stop watching even if you wanted to. Nakashima has created a thoroughly unpleasant world here, filled with repugnant characters and their victims, however he constructs it in such a way that for the 2 hours that we’re there, it’s hard to leave.
The final scenes take place in a snow covered landscape, not dissimilar to the way OldBoy comes to a close. However unlike in that movie, in which the unbroken white landscape represents a chance to start over, here it represents a blank canvas for Yakusho to get lost in his own insanity even further. For the audience, The World of Kanako provides a rabbit hole to fall into, but thankfully, unlike the characters within it, at the end of the 2 hours for us the fall is over.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 8/10