EXPECTATIONS: Something incredibly exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. And Fumi Nikaido!
REVIEW: For those who don’t know, director Tetsuya Nakashima is one hell of a visual stylist on film. This may seem like a point of criticism, implying that he aims for style over substance. But my goodness, he’s got style. His films have been critically acclaimed for this reason and he is very fortunate that he always has the right script to formulate his style into. Some people compare him to Tim Burton (similarities come from the fantasy film Paco and the Picture Book and the musical drama Memories of Matsuko) or Jean-Pierre Jeunet (his friendship comedy Kamikaze Girls has a very similar style to Amelie). But in his 2010 film, Confessions, he infuses his visual style to a much darker story and again, received critical acclaim to the point that the film was submitted to the shortlist of Best Foreign Film at the Oscars. After that, he was given a role to direct the new Attack on Titan film. I was completely gobsmacked despite the fact that I knew nothing of the source material other than some pictures and the premise. But that shattered and now we have the apparently disastrous film(s) we have now. So now we have The World of Kanako, a film you get when you cross Bad Lieutenant, Twin Peaks and Alice in Wonderland, and yes, it is as crazy as it sounds, and more.
Koji Yakusho stars as Akihiro Fujishima, a former detective who has just discovered that his daughter, Kanako (Nana Komatsu) is missing. Having to go back through his incredibly troubled past as well as his daughter’s tumultuous life through meeting his ex-wife (Asuka Kurosawa) and other various bizarre characters, he gradually discovers that his daughter is a lot different than what he imagined. Concurrently, we are told Kanako’s story proceeding to her disappearance through the eyes of a student (Hiroya Shimizu) known as Boku (known as “I” in Japanese), a timid and unsociable bullying victim who has a crush on Kanako. As he is lured into her life, he too falls into a rabbit hole of toxicity, lust and depravity that could leave a person insane.
Before I go into the story, I have to talk about the wonderful cast director Tetsuya Nakashima had assembled. From the acting veterans to rising stars to the new talent, they all deliver fantastic performances that were either surprising, professional, promising for future careers or career-best. And rightfully enough, Koji Yakusho (who has worked in Paco and the Picture Book, also directed by Nakashima) delivers a performance that is the latter. As Fujishima, he delivers a performance that is ruthlessly monstrous yet surprisingly human. He will do things that will make you hate him but you can’t help but go along with his character because he really is trying to find his daughter, which to him, is the only good thing he’s ever had in his life, and it is spectacular to see Yakusho deliver. On the surprising note, Nana Komatsu gives a great debut performance that makes her character vastly easy to believe that she can play a saint or a sinner. I thought it was strange to see three more experienced young actresses in the film yet Nakashima chose Komatsu in the title role, but in an interview, it was said that he made that decision because he didn’t want an actress that would dwell much into the character because it was meant to be a visual presence for the audience to decide and Komatsu portrayed that well.
As for the supporting cast, it was a hoot to see Satoshi Tsumabuki play a oily scumbag ageist cop who is hot on Fujishima’s trail while Joe Odigari Jun Kunimura and Miki Nakatani turn in their usual professional performances. As for the young talent, Ai Hashimoto was refreshingly filled with angst as Emi, a classmate of Kanako, and proved a great foil for Yakusho’s character as they have some great argumentative scenes that can be either disturbing or amusing. Fumi Nikaido (a FilmMomatic favourite) shows a rebellious side as Nami (though not as evil as her performance in Brain Man), and she was good in her performance (her coloured hair certainly helped), while Aoi Morikawa (whom I liked in the horror film, Fatal Frame) is memorable in her limited screen-time as the troubled Tomoko. Hiroya Shimizu as “Boku” (whom I’ve seen in the two-parter Solomon’s Perjury) is sympathetic and his change from victim to pursuer is portrayed convincingly, especially when he confronts his fellow students.
If you’ve seen the trailer for this film, you’ll notice its striking sense of style. And yes, the film is that stylish. The story is actually quite simple when you cut it down to its bare essentials but it is the style that makes it memorable. Everything from colours, uses of music, animated interludes, odd uses of camerawork, musical montages are all used here and are applied to great effect. There is a scene that uses a Dean Martin song that really gives a haunting feel that would stay with you for days. Songs of J-Pop and classical music and rigorous pacing would drown you and immerse you into the hyper-realistic world and much like the younger characters, you get the feeling that you should not witness this but you can’t look away, and Nakashima sells that. He also sells the mix of genres that range from horror to dark comedy to murder mystery and I swear I some some elements of Giallo in the film. All of it is mixed together great and it makes for one hell of a ride. What I also liked is the fact that no one really knows who Kanako is and it plays off with great themes such as nature vs. nurture or the commentary on teen socialism or even how far does love for a loved one go?
I was so thrilled, shocked and blindsided by this film, I had to take a shower afterwards. And that’s not a criticism. Speaking of criticisms, the style can be very overwhelming at times, which can result in tonal whiplash, and it can be hard to relate to any of the characters, therefore lacking a human touch, despite Yakusho’s best efforts. Also the violence can border beyond extreme, especially with its female characters. But overall, The World of Kanako is one hell of an experience that daring viewers should all experience.
Koji Yakusho gives a frighteningly monstrous, yet devastatingly human performance as Fujishima (a fantastic second collaboration between him and director Nakashima)
Nakashima’s direction is spectacularly without restraint (with great uses of animated interludes, jump-cuts, strobes, lens flares, camera angles/shots etc.; many references to 60’s and 70’s exploitation flicks and Nikkatsu crime films i.e the opening credit sequence; elements of horror, dark comedy, teen angst, murder mystery, I swear I saw some Giallo in there too)
The supporting cast give their roles zest (Nana Komatsu gives a fantastic debut as Kanako, who may be just as monstrous as her father; Satomi Tsumabaki is a pure delightful scumbag in his performance; Joe Odagiri is superb in his main scene…I could go on and on.)
The pacing is relentless and breakneck (alongside the tonal shifts and the pop-art style, this is a pure rollercoaster ride)
The stylistic choices are exhausting at times and will not be for everyone (it is definitely cartoony at times, repulsive the next)
None of the characters are truly likable
Misogynistic attitudes abound
SCORE: 9/10 (Tetsuya Nakashima is at his most unhinged and shocking, combining his distinctive pop-art style of Kamikaze Girls with the playful imagination of Paco and the Magical Picture Book with the dark storytelling of Confessions.)
Cast: Koji Yakusho, Nana Komatsu, Jun Kunimura, Miki Nakatani, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Asuka Kurosawa, Hiroya Shimizu, Fumi Nikaido, Ai Hashimoto, Aoi Morikawa, Munetaka Aoki
Director: Tetsuya Nakashima
Screenwriters: Tetsuya Nakashima, Nobuhiro Momma, Miako Tadano (Based on the novel by Akio Fukamachi)