By Jasper Sharp.
Tetsuya Nakashima’s 2010 movie Confessions, in which an embittered teacher avenged the death of her child at the hands of schoolchildren, caused plenty of commotion on its overseas release. World of Kanako continues Nakashima’s trawl into the darker recesses of the soul and will similarly divide opinion. Adapted from by Akio Fukamachi’s novel Hateshinaki Kawaki (Limitless Thirst – the film’s Japanese means just plan Thirst), it makes for grueling viewing, and while it is difficult not to admire its dazzling technical accomplishments, its numerous graphic excesses make it a difficult film to like.
Koji Yakusho, whose genial everyman appearances in such films as Shall We Dance?, Eureka and Babel have earned him comparisons with James Stewart, is near unrecognizable as washed-up former detective, Akihiro Fujishima. An unkempt and frenzied ball of bile and resentment fueled by his own addictions and his belligerent relationship to his estranged ex-wife, he runs amok through a plot set in motion when his high-school daughter, Kanako, goes missing, presumed dead, with an unrestrained bestial savagery that is all too reminiscent of Choi Min-sik’s character in Park Chan-wook’s Old Boy. His quest as he follows the labyrinthine trail into the nightmarish underworld of her heroin-addicted classmates and their pushers echoes Paul Schrader’s Hardcore, or closer to home, Kitano Takeshi’s Violent Cop. The missing girl remains an inscrutable and tantalizingly elusive character throughout, but the world of Kanako certainly isn’t a pretty one, and the relationship between father and daughter itself proves none too savory.
In tandem with cinematographer Shoichi Ato, Nakashima certainly conjures up some beautiful images – seductive scenes of nightclub revelry realized in lysergic hues, and a scene of one of her high-school cohorts’ vicious victimization at the hands of bullies rendered as an impressive animation sequence courtesy of Studio 4C – but they are barely given a chance to register amongst the relentless bombast of near subliminal edits that skip unsignalled between scenes and characters through flashbacks and fantasy like a hyperactive toddler running around with a pair of scissors. What begins as a rollercoaster ride soon feels like death by a thousand cuts as we whisk through a series of increasingly nasty set pieces including a brutal marital rape, a brutal homosexual gang rape, incestuous rape, and a bloody ear amputation. Perhaps it is fortunate that the bewildering parade of characters are barely given chance to breathe onscreen, yet alone elicit much in the way of audience sympathy.
Once the barrage of jigsaw-like fragments of plot have been pieced together, World of Kanako too feels convoluted and unconvincing. If Nakashima intended to create a complex portrait of a jilted generation, it ultimately fails because it feels so disconnected with any sense of reality, the sense of artifice compounded by the stylized opening credit sequence, with its punk rock accompaniment, and taking its cues from Tarantino, a medley of soul, Americana and J-Pop songs that plays out on the soundtrack over the more horrific scenes.
And yet the film is an undeniable technical tour-de-force, never less so than in the wonderfully orchestrated punch-out of the false horizon climax. I’m sure that the film that will undoubtedly find its fans, just as I’m sure that I’m not one of them, although it will win few converts to contemporary Japanese cinema and I can’t help but feel that in his obdurate mission to push his filmmaking style to its most illogical extremes, Nakashima has forgotten that it was the beating heart beneath the surface sheen of his earlier works that made them so memorable.
This review of the film was based on the UK home video release, originally scheduled for 15th August but put back due to complications with the British Board of Film Classification to 12th September – no cuts have been made, but verification was required that the actresses in some of the rape scenes were above legal age. In the meantime, on 17th August the distributor Metrodome entered administration. What this means for this particular release is unclear, but it does at least allow me the leeway to point out that as current home video presentations go, this is pretty perfunctory. Granted that UK market is currently a hostile place for theatrical releases of niche-interest subtitled films such as this, but if World of Kanako does ever surface in the UK, it will be as a bare-bones only DVD. Cult film fans with an interest in this sort of thing are more likely to plump for the North American Blu-ray released by Drafthouse Films earlier this year following a North American theatrical run, packaged with The Making of The World of Kanako featurette and interviews with lead actress Nana Komatsu and the author of the source novel Akio Fukamachi.
World of Kanako might be released in the UK on 12th September… or it might not.