If one would to look at the face of contemporary Japanese cinema, director Tetsuya Nakashima would be a name that would come to mind. With Nakashima being in the limelight for roughly the last the decade now for such films as the colorfully cheerful Kamikaze Girls (2004), the darkly comical Memories of Matsuko (2006), and the classroom revenge thriller Confessions (2010), Nakashima has developed quite a reputation as a director with a distinct style and flair. Easing between this sense of sheer eccentricity and mainstream popularity, Nakashima is in a rather unique position of being viewed as conventional but also entirely unto his own lane in terms of creativity.
With his latest film The World of Kanako, this sense of both the conventional and creativity can only extend so far though in regard to bringing about a coherent viewing experience. Based on the novel by Akio Fukamachi, The World of Kanako is a film that is as convoluted in its presentation as it is in its narrative, coupling moments of complete visual chaos amidst that of instances of crudely overt violence and sexualization. While these qualities should not be necessarily viewed as a detriment to the film itself, they do hinder much of the intelligibility that the narrative could have offered.
From the film’s very opening moments, where we witness an energetic, maddening, and extensive visual collage around former detective Showa Fujishima leading up to the search for his missing daughter Kanako, the film’s unrelenting nature is in full force and has no intention of slowing down at all. As Showa continues his search for his daughter, he begins to slowly delve deeper and deeper into Kanako’s dejected life situation prior to her disappearance, with him becoming equally ensnared as time passes. As the two become closer through Showa’s investigatory efforts, revelations abound concerning their relationship as father and daughter.
Film veteran Koji Yakusho portrays the film’s insanely demented Showa with great commendation, even if the script is not necessarily providing him with much emotional depth or connection towards the audience to work with. While initially sympathetic concerning his endeavors to crack the case and find his missing daughter, his character soon devolves into a cruelly abusive individual as he attempts to reconcile his somewhat estranged relationship with Kanako. This is where the film mainly stumbles at delivering any sense of genuine forethought for Showa’s situation nor that of his daughter Kanako’s, with the narrative constantly and undecidedly veering between instances of dark humor and utter depravity.
The film’s narrative is mostly effective in terms of presenting Showa’s developing obsessiveness with not only finding Kanako, but with the illusion of Kanako herself. The film is suggestive on Showa’s reasons, strangely bordering on the lines of incest at times, but his downward and destructive behavior remains one of the film’s highlights even if it is highly exaggerated. Unfortunately, even though the film also contains an extended cast that includes considerable talent such as Satoshi Tsumabuki. Joe Odagiri, and Miki Nakatani, they are regulated to side characters that are provided little to no authentic development. One can assume that these characters were more fleshed out within the confines of the novel, but here they are shallowly portrayed in comparison to Showa’s plight as a damaged individual.
With a narrative focused more so on superficiality rather than providing any resemblance of sympathy regarding its characters and their dire situations, we are seemingly thrown from one episode of brutality towards another without much care to advancing the plot. Whether this is random showcases of grueling violence and sexuality, or just having characters being viciously ruthless to one another, the film places a lot of emphasis focusing on these things, often with a comedic tinge. Now, in some films this would have certainly have worked. Even Nakashima’s previous film Memories of Matsuko does an appreciable job in doing a similar take on its lack of compassion. Here Nakashima’s main priority is to seemingly shock the audience into submission rather than provide us with anything we should care about concerning character development, narrative, and the like.
Despite these setbacks, those accustomed to Nakashima’s style as a director will certainly find some appreciation in what he delivers through The World of Kanako, even if the film is expressed more as a showcase for his own eccentricities as a director than anything else. Practically everything in the film is done in such an outlandishly hyperkinetic style that is so trademark Nakashima that, on a primarily visual level, it is a delight to see him as a director simply having fun. The film utterly succeeds in this regard, even though at times it can admittedly be unbearable to watch just because it is so immensely fast paced.
Also interesting to note is the way in which the film provides a social satire on the state of parent-to-children relationships. Do parents really know their children or do they just thinkthat they do? Kanako is viewed throughout the film as an enigma, a ghost in which Showa only hears and learns about though other people and his own detective work, with her slipping ever outside that of his own grasps. What he learns about his daughter, her true essence in every sense of the word, is undoubtedly disturbing. This knowledge shifts and changes him, both mentally and physically. He slowly realizes that his daughter is unlike he imagined, with a shocking realization in the film’s concluding half that is strikingly haunting.
The World of Kanako is not a film that is lighthearted in the slightest, even if it contains moments of humor. It is a dark descent into deviancy, uninterrupted in its tenacity and resolve as one father searches and attempts to find for his missing daughter at all costs. This itself is where the film find its true calling, but it simply can not sustain much of any reasonable direction considering its tangled narrative. Nakashima’s attempts his best here, providing a distinctive visual style that is highly noticeable, but he can not offer much outside of that. Not even Yakusho’s outstanding performances can salvage the film from its detriments. The World of Kanako is a film that provides a frenetic and chaotic visual noir-esque journey that is unfortunately hindered by its own eclecticism, with its whodunit narrative collapsing under its own directorial weight.