Tag Archives: Tetsuya Nakashima



Format: DVD + Blu-ray (R1)

Release date: 18 November 2014

Distributor: Music Box Films

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Based on the novel by: Kanae Minato

Cast: Masaaki Akahori, Manatsu Kimura, Kyôko Koizumi

Original title: Shokuzai

Japan 2012

300 mins

Like Tetsuya Nakashima’s Confessions (2010) and Yoshihiro Nakamura’s The Snow White Murder Case (2014), Penance is based on a novel by bestselling crime writer Kanae Minato. Unlike those works, it was originally shown as a TV miniseries before being released to film festivals as a five-hour feature film, and now on Region 1 DVD and Blu-ray. Many of Minato’s works recount the circumstances around a murder, as experienced by the perpetrators, the victims, the witnesses, and those around them. Although the various adaptations of her novels have that much in common, they take very different approaches to the material.

As the film opens we are introduced to Emili Adachi, a new girl at a country school in Ueda. She makes friends with a group of girls impressed by her lovely home and her glamorous mother Asako (Kyôko Koizumi). The five girls are playing after school when they are approached by a man, who asks one of them to help him with his work. While the others wait nervously, Emili is taken into the school gym and murdered. They find her body on the gym floor and alert the police, but are too traumatized or scared to provide any helpful information. Angered by their silence, Asako tells the four girls that they must pay a penance for their part in Emili’s death and their failure to help catch the killer, but only she can release them from that penance.

From there we move to 15 years later, with each of the girls grown up but manifesting their trauma in different ways. Sae (Yū Aoi) has become intensely scared of men and adult sexuality, shutting down her body’s transition into maturity. Now a teacher, Maki (Eiko Koike, 2LDK) is a strict disciplinarian spurred on by well-concealed rage. Akiko (Sakura Ando) has escaped into a world of childish make-believe, supported by her patronizing and enabling family. The last of the four is Yuka (Chizuru Ikewaki), the only one who rejected Asako’s conditions, saying that she would do as she pleased. She believes that her sexual manipulation and callous brutality are indicators of strength and independence, but in reality she’s as psychically and spiritually broken as her friends. Each of the four girls is given their own episode, with the fifth and final hour dedicated to Asako’s pursuit of the killer.

At first glance it might seem that Kiyoshi Kurosawa is not the most likely candidate to handle a miniseries adaptation of a bestselling crime novel, but there are precedents in his output. Over the years Kurosawa has produced work for television on a number of occasions, most notably with Séance (Kōrei, 2000), his reworking of Bryan Forbes’s Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964). Several of his films demonstrate a familiarity with the formal mechanics of thrillers and crime dramas, including his international breakthrough Cure (1997) and the twin revenge movies Serpent’s Path (Hebi no michi) and Eyes of the Spider (Kumo no hitomi), both released in 1998.

By the end of the first hour, it has become apparent that Kurosawa’s gloomy, minimalist style suits the material perfectly. The same sense of impending dread that helped to make Pulse (Kairo, 2001) one of the most effective Japanese horror films of its time follows the five women in Penance and makes it impossible to look away until each arc reaches its conclusion. This is no vague, metaphysical dread, but a real, tangible one that reflects the inescapable fates of the characters as all of the girls’ lives descend into violence and horror.

There may be no real ghosts in Penance, but throughout the stories Asako lingers on the edges of the girls’ lives, saying little but watching until the end, her black clothes and high heels as distinctive as the kimonos and traditional hairstyles worn by the yūrei (vengeful spirits) of the traditional Japanese kaidan (ghost stories). She’s not there to exact vengeance, but serves as a constant reminder of the way in which the girls’ fates are bound up with Emili’s, and the karmic retribution that awaits them.

In the final hour Asako changes from ever-present phantom to victim, detective and guilty party, as her role in the events of the past is explored. It’s not much of a criticism to say that this final episode doesn’t match the standards of the earlier chapters, as the necessity of providing solutions to the central mystery takes over and Penance becomes a more traditional crime story. In an era when a two-hour running time can seem increasingly indulgent, Kurosawa has created a five-hour film that doesn’t drag for a second, maintaining its momentum throughout. It can also be viewed as a five-part miniseries, but it’s to the director’s credit that Penance remains perfectly accessible in its full-length format.

Jim Harper

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.

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