The World of Kanako (Kawaki)
Directed by Tetsuya Nakashima
The World of Kanako is a cold, heartless bloodfest.
Criticisms of the United States having a culture of violence are common. However, this movie puts Japan front and center in the conversation of pop violence and entertainment completely devoid of any redeeming qualities.
Here’s how The World of Kanako translates into Hollywood terms: Mix the violent exploitation mindset of Quentin Tarantino with the snappy editing sensibilities of early David Fincher movies, then throw in the temperamental, lost characters — and somber storyline — of a David Lynch nightmare (in particular, The World of Kanako calls to mind Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me and Blue Velvet).
Voila. A dark, violent symphony of blood involving uniformly unappealing characters is the end result, and it’s certainly not something to everyone’s taste. But clearly there's also an audience for this type of fare, and the movie's being released in the U.S. under the Drafthouse shingle. (Please be courteous while enjoying the carnage.)
From a strictly technical point of view, the execution is excellent. The filmmaking — cinematography, editing, frame composition — creates a visual feast. Koji Yakusho (Babel) is all-in as Akikazu Fujishima, Kanako's father. He's one character who serves as what might be called the “central protagonist” and Yakusho spits out his dialogue with an all-consuming venom.
Nonetheless, it’s the complete lack of emotional resonance and a rational, relatable grounding point that make this movie an insufferable experience.
Even the opening credits pop with vulgarity. Imagine the cheesy, comic book-like look of an Adam West Batman TV episode, but the “Kapow!” and “Bam!” are replaced by expletives or other vulgarities.
What’s it about? Well, it’s based on the book Hateshinaki Kawaki by Akio Fukamachi; it’s reportedly a bestseller in the Land of the Rising Sun. In short, it’s about a washed-up, drunken ex-cop who’s so far removed from his estranged family he doesn’t even recognize his own daughter’s face. And yet when she goes missing, his bloodlust borders on the hellbent. His investigation uncovers a smorgasbord of debauchery and depravity; innocent people are nowhere to be found.
The police department, the school system, parents, children: they’re all mired in a tale of sex, drugs and murder. All are guilty, none are deserving of forgiveness and none seek redemption. There’s also a wiseacre cop who’s constantly sucking on a lollipop and badly in need of a smack upside the head. Telly Savalas he is not.
Who loves you, baby? Nobody. Not here.
The story is told through a rapid-fire presentation of flashbacks that reveal the teenage girl’s wild party lifestyle and the ridiculous series of messy situations her complete and utter lack of respect for other human beings unleashes. One nerd thinks she’s the epitome of loveliness; she’s beautiful and kind. Yeah. Then he gets to know her — but it’s already too late. His life is brought down to her sunken level.
It’s the kind of story wherein right when things couldn’t possibly get any more unseemly, everybody doubles-down to make it much worse.
Describing The World of Kanako as a triumph of style over substance isn’t quite right because even the style begins to grate. Particularly when the soundtrack breaks open the opera music to add a completely unnecessary layer of texture. Japanese pop, U.S. rock, opera — it all strains into tedium and it’s far too overdone.
All of that style is an attempt to cover up the lack of any element to care about. None of the characters deserve much sympathy. It’s a matter of degrees in determining which characters are disliked a little bit less than the others.
Perhaps the best thing that can be said about The World of Kanako is that it’s the kind of movie that offers an awesome sense of relief when it’s finally over. It’s time to leave and happily return to a relatively quiet and uneventful life; but that doesn’t warrant spending nearly two hours being pummeled by this flashy, gory, bloody imagery. Cut it down to 10 minutes, display it on a wall as an installation at the Museum of Modern Art and call it good.
It’s said revenge is a dish best served cold. And yet, even when that lollipop-sucking jerk finally gets his due, it’s such an ice-cold dish, there’s nothing tasty to savor in The World of Kanako.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.