From Memories of Matsuko through to this new offering, director Tetsuya Nakashima has developed a striking world of intense violence, emotional and physical, punctuated by moments of candy-coloured exuberance. While Matsuko, Confessions and The World of Kanako were all adapted from novels written by different authors, there is a continuing fascination for adolescent girls and the strange closed-off realm they inhabit running through them (as well as through Nakashima’s earlier Kamikaze Girls).
Kôji Yakusho, a favourite of the great Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s, plays Akikazu Fujishima, a washed-out former detective searching for his missing estranged daughter Kanako at the request of his distraught ex-wife. In the course of his investigation, he uncovers a vicious underworld of drugs, brutality and sexual exploitation. As terrible secrets are revealed, he is also forced to face the memories of his own actions as a father and husband.
Akikazu is a man who can only express himself and relate to the world through violence. His approach to the people around him, whether he feels affection or aversion for them, is pretty much limited to shouting, beating and raping. And although the film’s focus is on Kanako, it is really Akikazu’s vision of the world that the audience is plunged into, and it is a fairly relentless, harrowing experience. As the film progresses, it is as if the violence inside him became increasingly visible physically, as if it could no longer be contained: as he is forced to face himself, his already unkempt appearance gradually descends into full-on bruised and blood-stained messiness.
A gaping absence at the heart of the story, Kanako remains a question mark that looms over the film, an enigma that remains mostly unresolved. Essentially unknowable, she is outlined only through other people’s perceptions of her, people who all have deep, passionate, powerful feelings about her. Here as in Confessions, teenagers are troubling, ambiguous creatures, simultaneously playful and cruel, childlike and knowing, unpredictably alternating between innocence and nastiness, to the utter bewilderment and dismay of the adults around them – and Kanako is the ultimate example of that. But just as in Confessions, adults are capable of terrible acts of revenge for the wrong done to their loved ones. As morally murky as Confessions, and as emotionally intense as Memories of Matsuko, The World of Kanako is a visceral dive into hearts of darkness and the ties that bind them.
Watch the trailer: