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  • Writer's pictureRobin Syversen


Updated: May 30, 2023

Kanako's World is a Rabbit Hole of Human Decadence

Director: Tetsuya Nakashima

Cast: Kôji Yakusho, Nana Komatsu, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Jun Kunimura, Odagiri Joe

Related Films: Kamikaze Girls, Confessions, Guilty of Romance, Himizu, A Snake of June

Studio: Gaga Communications

Year: 2014

Verdict: 4/6


Introducing The World of Kanako

The World of Kanako is as pitch black as Japanese «pop art films» come. But fans of Tetsuya Nakashima probably have a fetish for sensory overloads and gore anyway. As expected, he delivers visual madness, but it all feels less inspired and authentic than his earlier films.

Dazzling, yet somewhat incoherent,

the storytelling keeps you grasping for moments of clarity.

That said, The World of Kanako is a wild ride that will shock those unfamiliar with directors such as Sion Sono, Shinya Tsukamoto, or Nakashima. Likewise, it will satisfy the fans of those same directors, even though this film does not offer much more than… more of everything.

Nakashima’s Road to Accessible Darkness

The World of Kanako is a thriller from 2014 starring Kôji Yakusho (Cure, The Eel, Eureka) and Nana Komatsu (After the Rain). It was directed by Tetsuya Nakashima and was based on a novel called «Hateshinaki Kawaki» (Endless Thirst) by Akio Fukamachi.

Nakashima gained a cult following overseas when he made the films Kamikaze Girls (2004) and Memories of Matsuko (2006). Both films were quirky comedies showcasing an eclectic mix of art house cinema, Japanese pop culture, and Harajuku fashion.

Nakashima changed gears in 2010, however, when he released the dark and gruesome Confessions. His eye for unique cinematography still made for a visually striking experience, but the lighthearted silliness of his previous films was nowhere to be found. Instead, he delivered a bleak and crushingly depressive study of the human condition.

The World of Kanako also investigates human nature but does so more frantically than the calculated storytelling in Confessions. The narrative unfolds in a nonlinear manner, which makes it hard to grasp at first glance. After a while, though, the story is pulled nicely together and stays intelligible for the most part.

As such, it might test the patience of some viewers. But, at the same time, there is a popcorn element to the madness that makes for a more accessible experience than the case was with Confessions. Just when the darkness is about to reach repulsive depths, some unexpected visual treat distracts our disgust and keeps our fascination at bay.

The Plot that Built The World of Kanako

The story is told from the perspective of an ex-cop searching for his missing teenage daughter. He is far from a knight in shining armor, though, but rather an abusive father and husband who is desperately trying to reclaim some sense of normalcy in his chaotic life.

His search takes him into the dark depths of juvenile delinquency. The more he learns, the less he believes. As the clues and threads are pulled together, we - the audience - come to the same realization as Kanako’s dad that something is not quite right with Kanako.

Cutbacks from the past reveal a calculating teenage girl who manipulates the naive and feeds on the weak. The father's dawning realization about Kanako’s true nature reveals displays of nihilism, corruption, and mental abuse as if looking back at him from a broken mirror.

Ironically, his dive into the world of Kanako was ignited by a desire to reunite the two and ultimately fueled by his wish to punish his unruly daughter. The question is if the broken mirror can ever be mended.

Producing a Rabbit Hole of Nightmares

The cinematographic onslaught in Kamikaze Girls and Confessions delighted some and sickened others. Nakashima's modus operandi was always built on excess. The World of Kanako takes it one step further and assaults our senses in every way imaginable.

Visual and sonic attacks send the audience spinning headfirst into a pool of comments on the human condition and Japanese society at large, and a filthy pool it is. Images of teenage decadence and everyday nihilism are shot at us like machinegun fire from a twisted mad hatter directing his tea party of choice.

The atmosphere at Nakashima's «tea party» is not unlike that of Sion Sono's Guilty of Romance, interspersed with grindhouse antics and unrestrained, fast-paced cinematography. The cutting, framing, and camera movement are brilliant, though disturbing, as we’ve come to expect from Nakashima.

Ultimately, however, The World of Kanako feels less unique than his prior films. To some extent, the overall visual expression feels too familiar. The new wrapping doesn’t hide the recycled ideas well enough, so to speak.

Other times, the bombardment of images feels like being covered with a patchwork quilt of cut and pasted ideas from the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Gaspar Noé, and Harmony Korine.

On the other hand, the sound design, casting, and acting performances might very well be the best you’ll find in any of Nakashima's films. The music, in particular, stands out and gives The World of Kanako a certain sense of distinction when the visual excess reaches numbing proportions.

Who’s Bad? | The Characters in Kanako’s World

In The World of Kanako, we encounter a cast of characters that are as complex as they are intriguing. Nakashima, Yakusho, and Komatsu twist us around their little finger, making us hate to sympathize with their moral corruption. Were it not for their dastardly well-done acting, The World of Kanako would have never worked so well.

Kanako Fujishima: A Wolf in Sheeps Clothing

The titular character, Kanako Fujishima, is an enigma for much of the film. Through the eyes of her father and peers, we see many versions of Kanako, none of which seem to wholly capture her essence.

The juxtaposition of Kanako's dual image - the innocent schoolgirl and the manipulative femme fatale - keeps the audience engaged, leading them through a labyrinth of conflicting impressions. Her absence, paradoxically, increases her presence, leading us to ask - who truly is Kanako Fujishima?

Akikazu Fujishima: The Anti-Hero Spiraling Out of Control

Akikazu Fujishima, a former detective and Kanako's estranged father acts as our flawed guide through the world of the film. A man teetering on the edge of sanity, he embarks on a relentless quest to find his missing daughter.

However, his personal demons, from his violent tendencies to his struggle with alcoholism, taint his perspective, making him as unreliable as he is compelling. As Akikazu delves deeper into the dark abyss of his daughter's life, we see him grapple with guilt, regret, and self-destruction.

Supporting Characters: The Acolytes of Decadence

Beyond Kanako and Akikazu, the film features a supporting cast that adds further layers to the narrative. Characters such as Detective Asai, Akikazu's former colleague, provide insights into Akikazu's past, shedding light on his current state.

Similarly, characters like Kanako's classmates and the individuals associated with her dark activities underscore the theme of hidden depravity beneath the surface of everyday life. No matter how seemingly insignificant, each character contributes to the film's intricate tapestry of interwoven narratives and themes.

Morality’s Grey Areas | The World of Kanako Analysis

The World of Kanako presents a Japanese society in which nihilism and hedonism are the prevailing values. It immediately makes the film hard to like. And it doesn’t help much that none of the characters are especially likable. However, this only underlines the highlight of the film: The acting performances.

Kôji Yakusho, playing the father, gives one of his best role interpretations ever, which is saying a lot to anyone familiar with his filmography. He perfectly underlines that nothing is ever black and white in life.

A despicable father desperately tries to find his manipulating daughter but is hindered by a system so corrupt that no one knows where social justice ends and criminality begins. Who is to blame? By seeking to punish his daughter, is the father also punishing himself? His search for Kanako certainly forces him to take a long, hard look in the mirror.

Japan is undeniably a country that celebrates excess, something The World of Kanako is a perfect example of. Not only is the film loaded with visual expressions enough to make you lose your mind, but it's also brimful of self-indulgent and inconsiderate characters.

In many ways, the film depicts a society that is the exact opposite of Western notions of Japan. I’ve never seen such vile depravity when walking down dark alleys in Shibuya or Kabukichô. But who is to say what reality I, as an outsider, am allowed to see when visiting?

Did I ever see the real Japan? Did I ever learn the honest opinion of anyone? If «tatemae» (facade) is the opposite of «honne» (true feelings), then it stands to reason that the picture-perfect Japan, which is presented to the world, might be something quite different as well.

Let's not go as far as to insinuate that The World of Kanako in any way reflects reality, but the statement made by Nakashima definitely carries some weight. It says that nothing is ever enough. Human decay is all around, and so it will be until the world stops turning.

Final Verdict for The World of Kanako

A lot can be said about The World of Kanako. It is the kind of film that every viewer will interpret differently. There is so much to take in and such a need for digestion that it almost seems unfair to judge the movie based on a single viewing.

Then again, most moviegoers might not have the same habit of re-watching movies as film reviewers, especially not films so controversial that one viewing per lifetime might be enough.

Safe to say, The World of Kanako is an experience. It might not be revolutionary. It might not even be pleasant, but it undoubtedly leaves an impression. If you can tolerate massive amounts of sweat, blood, gore, galore, glam, and glitz, then prepare for a ride down the darkest rabbit hole you’ve ever been.


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