Tag Archives: Japanese film

The World of Kanako

The World of Kanako
The World of Kanako

Format: DVD

Release date: 15 August 2016

Distributor: Metrodome

Director: Tetsuya Nakashima

Writers: Tetsuya Nakashima, Miako Tadano, Nobuhiro Monma

Based on the novel by: Akio Fukamachi

Cast: Kôji Yakusho, Nana Komatsu, Satochi Tsumabuki

Original title: Kawaki

Japan 2014

118 mins

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.

Virginie Sélavy

This review is part of our London Film Festival 2014 coverage.

Watch the trailer:

Ninja Scroll

Ninja Scroll

Format: Cinema

Release date: 23 November 2012

Venues: Key cities

Format: Blu-ray

Release date: 26 November 2012

Distributor: Manga Entertainment

Director: Yoshiaki Kawajiri

Writer: Yoshiaki Kawajiri

Original title: Jûbê ninpûchô

Japan 1993

94 mins

On the eve of its 20th anniversary, one of the most popular animé films of the early 90s finally reached UK cinemas, ahead of an HD release on Blu-ray. Ninja Scroll was originally released in the West on the back of the success of Akira, as both US and UK distributors fell over themselves looking for the next big Japanese animated film that could cash in on the success of the cyberpunk classic, while ignoring for another decade the non-violent, but superlative work of Studio Ghibli.

The film suffers from the excesses that gave much contemporaneous animé a bad name. These include pans over still images to save the animators some time, as well as the more unsavoury scenes of rape, excessive female nudity, ultra-violence and the ubiquitous tentacled monsters. But none of these elements should be a surprise, as the director also animated more egregious examples in the form of his Wicked City pair of films (ôôjû toshi, 1987) and Monster City (Makaitoshi Shinjuku, 1988). However, in Ninja Scroll at least, these elements are offset by some beautiful renderings of landscapes, weather and the costumes of feudal Japan. The film’s bookends are also excellent: a surprisingly subtle fight scene on a bridge and a climactic battle on a burning ship full of molten gold.

That the film excels more in individual compositions than overall direction and storytelling is indicative of the fact that the director worked better as an animator on other people’s projects, rather than his own, most notably on one of the finest examples of the medium, Rintaro’s Metropolis (Metoroporisu, 2001) and the Satoshi Kon/Katsuhiro Ôtomo anthology Memories (Memorîzu, 1995).

While not based on manga like many of its contemporaries, the story in Ninja Scroll is still episodic to the extent of feeling like video-game plotting. The lead character – a wandering ronin called Kibagami Jubei – goes on various missions: retrieving gold, protecting the weak from being beaten and subjugated, and fighting a variety of creatures that transform from human personas into monsters. Some of these seem overfamiliar, such as those with the aforementioned tentacles, but others are terrific hybrids of man and nature, including a swarm of hornets that live within a hunchback’s vertebrae and demons that transform into rocks and shadows. Reminiscent of American super-villains, these characters and the rendering of rain and snow suggest the director also looked to the West for inspiration, to heroes and villains in Marvel Comics, as well as the then recently started Sin City comic by Frank Miller. Indeed, Kawajiri would look to Miller for inspiration again in his 2003 The Animatrix samurai episode ‘Program’.

Elsewhere, the inspiration is purely Japanese, with the wandering ninja relocated from a series of novels by Futaro Yamada, and placed in front of compositions reminiscent of paintings by Hokusai. This cultural mash-up is entertaining and often memorable, and the legions of adolescent males who have watched the film over the last generation ensured a thematic sequel in 1997’s Ninja Resurrection (Makai Tensho: Jigoku-hen), a spin-off TV series in 2003, and an official sequel in pre-production.

However, the rape scene, which borders on cannibalism and necrophilia, leaves a bad taste in the mouth (no pun intended), and one wonders if the BBFC actually made the right decision in 1995 when they originally cut it from the film. The other 93 minutes are a reasonable introduction to the genre for gamers and animé fans, who would be well advised to follow this with the superior animé series Samurai Champloo (Samurai chanpurû, 2004–05). However, for those seeking the best ninja/samurai action on screen, there are dozens of live action movies either directed by Akira Kurosawa or based on manga by Kazuo Koike that are much better films than Ninja Scroll.

Alex Fitch