London 2014: ‘The World of Kanako’ review


Tetsuya Nakashima’s icy drama Confessions (2010) took the hyper-stylised aesthetics of his early work Kamikaze Girls (2004) and Memories of Matsuko (2006) and refined their energy and exuberance into a tightly wound revenge drama. His latest, The World of Kanako (2014), releases the clutch, utilising a repulsive former detective as its protagonists in an attempt to dissect the generational disconnect in contemporary Japan whilst painting a rancid portrait of youth culture. Based on the novel Kawaki by Akio Fukamachi, The World of Kanako amplifies the pulpy sensibilities of this atypical revenge drama with an abundance of the erratic cuts, violence and flamboyant visuals that have characterised Nakashima’s work.

Our guide is Akikazu (Kôji Yakusho), a schizophrenic former detective with a destructive addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs. He’s searching for his estranged daughter, in what is partly a final shot at fatherly redemption, but primarily a chance to get one over his former colleagues. However, the film soon derails itself from the traditional thriller template, finding itself ensnared within a sticky web of deceit and exploitation that exposes the putrefying state of modern Japan and leaves everyone looking culpable. Intricate, rapid-fire editing and the employment of numerous perspectives invigorates The World of Kanako with a frenetic energy that separates it from your average revenge thriller. Nakashima succinctly displays the trickle-down affect of cruelty and neglect, implying that the apple rarely falls far from the tree.

Playing with chronology and distorting memory to disorientate and confound the audience, this obsidian voyage into the depth of depravity is a caustic whirlwind of innumerable styles that culminates in a playful, if not wilfully self-indulgent condemnation of humanity. Indebted to the exploitation movies of the 1960s and 70s, The World of Kanako boasts a remarkable central performance by Yakusho, yet the complete absence of empathy towards him quickly turns this violent mystery into a nasty and unbearable masochistic experience. Almost every scene is punctuated with violence, and whilst our incredibly flawed protagonist often finds himself on the receiving end, the recurring scenes of vehement misogyny transcend social commentary, ultimately exploiting our disgust for little more than cheap shocks. The World of Kanako constantly challenges the audience’s tolerance to on-screen violence, seemingly taking perverse pleasure in pushing the bounds of taste and moral decency, yet this reliance of blood and gore soon becomes monotonous and revulsion dilutes into tedium. Fans of graphic Japanese revenge thrillers will no doubt adore Nakashima’s dexterous descent into the depths of immorality, yet the problematic depiction of violence towards women can’t help but leave a sour aftertaste.

The BFI London Film Festival takes place from 8-19 October 2014. For more of our coverage, simply follow this link.

Patrick Gamble @PatrickJGamble