THE WORLD OF KANAKO (2014)
Updated: Mar 15, 2022
Kanako's World is a Rabbit Hole of Human Decadence
Director: Tetsuya Nakashima
Cast: Kôji Yakusho, Nana Komatsu, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Jun Kunimura, Odagiri Joe
Introducing Kanako's world
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.
That being said, The World of Kanako is a wild ride that will shock those who are 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.
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.
Tetsuya Nakashima gained a cult following overseas when he made the films Kamikaze Girls (2004) and Memories of Matsuko (2006). Both films were so-called quirky comedies that showcased 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.
Down Nakashima's rabbit hole we go
The World of Kanako also investigates human nature, but does so in a more frantic way than the calculated storytelling in Confessions. The narrative unfolds in 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.
Dazzling, yet somewhat incoherent,
the storytelling keeps you grasping for moments of clarity.
As such, it might test the patience of some viewers. At the same, time there is a popcorn-element to the madness that makes for a more accessible experience than the aforementioned 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 who is searching for his missing teenage daughter. He is far from a knight in shining armor; 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 was 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 images 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 who is 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 movement of the camera are brilliant, though disturbing, like we have come to expect from Nakashima.
In the end, however, The World of Kanako feels somewhat 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 reach numbing proportions.
Between the lines - In the grey areas of morality
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 likeable. 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 brings forth the fact 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, its 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. Nowhere have I ever 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 coming to visit?
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
As underlined in the previous chapter, a lot can be said about The World of Kanako. It is the sort of film that will be interpreted differently by every viewer. There is so much to take in, and such a need for digestion that it almost seems unfair to judge the film based on a single viewing.
Then again, most moviegoers might not have the same habit of re-watching movies like 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 definitely leaves an impression. If you can tolerate huge amounts of sweat, blood, gore, galore, glam and glitz, then prepare for a ride down the darkest rabbit hole you’ve ever been.
Film Inquiry: The World of Kanako: A Brilliant Gut Punch To Noir
Filmmaker Magazine: In Extremis: The World of Kanako