The World of Kanako is a relentlessly violent, elliptical and at times cartoonish detective story which revolves around one of the most deplorable protagonists in recent memory in the form of Akikazu Fujishima, a schizophrenic, alcoholic ex-policeman without a redeemable bone in his entire body. He is a vengeful force of indiscriminate violence who takes about as much as he dishes out as he barrels like a freight train through the lives of everyone he comes into contact with.
After attacking his wife Kiriko and her lover on Christmas Eve, Fujishima is diagnosed a schizophrenic, loses his job and becomes a security guard who unwisely mixes his meds with a lot of alcohol. He climbs out of the gutter eight months later to investigate the disappearance of his teenage daughter Kanako. The chance to become a detective once more gives Fujishima a new lease on life, but his rampant alcoholism and his inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality causes him to lash out in violent outbursts without caring about the consequences. As his investigation deepens, he discovers horrible truths about his daughter and comes to realize just what a monster he has become.
Adapted from Akio Fukamachi’s novel by writer/director Tetsuya Nakashima, this is one very violent film. There is not one horrible act of violence or taboo that the movie is afraid to subject the viewer to (Fujishima himself is shot, stabbed and beaten a multitude of times while other characters are eviscerated, disfigured or raped). Paedophilia, incest, drug abuse and suicide all get a look in as well as the film intercuts Fujishima’s investigation with events in Kanako’s past that may offer glimpses into what has happened to her. The more her father looks into things the more he discovers that Kanako may not be the innocent victim his tortured mind has made her out to be. In fact, she may very well be more like him than he dare admit.
Nakashima uses elliptical editing to put us into Fujishima’s headspace, a place of violence and confusion. Events appear to occur out of order until eventually Fujishima realizes the way things really are may not be quite the way he has perceived them. Kanako’s life, in flashbacks, seem like the innocent hijinks of childhood and Nakashima mixes pop video styles with anime to create this effect, which loses all of its innocence the more Kanako’s life is revealed. These scenes play in stark contrast to the scenes of extreme violence and depravity that occur over the course of the film and combined with some more comic book style touches, they make for a wildly shifting tone that makes the film feel like an out of control rollercoaster at times, but one which Nakashima manages to keep on the tracks.
These wild tonal shifts will be the film’s decisive element for audiences. At times it wants us to laugh at Fujishima, but then he does something so reprehensible that you just downright hate him. Then there will be sudden, shocking act of violence followed by a slapstick moment. The film is completely all over the place and the violence will most definitely turn people off. This is a film that should come with a dozen trigger warnings and at times seems to enjoy revelling in its utter depravity. Yet at the same time the shifts in tone do work in their own weird way. There is something about this kind of Japanese genre cinema that can have its cake and eat it too. How much enjoyment you get from it though all depends on your tolerability index for extreme violence.
Koji Yakusho embodies Fujishima with a wildly oscillating temperament to match the tonal shifts in the film. At first crazed, then pathetic, back to crazed then finally solemn. Yakusho’s performance is one of the film’s true strengths and helps keep these shifts in tone from completely running off the rails. Only an actor of Yakusho’s raw talent and charisma could carry such a whirlwind of a character and make him believable in all his awfulness. Fujishima is such a despicable man yet Yakusho’s performance does offer that glimmer of sympathy, although not too much that you ever stop hating him.
Relentlessly dark and violent, this film is not for the faint of heart. Nakashima wants to confront the audience with scenes of depravity to shock, but also to establish a theme of contagious violence. This is a never ending cycle where the victims become the perpetrators and so on. There is also a feeling that the events of the film are not quite as real as Fujishima thinks they are, so the protagonist’s point of view is a questionable one and what we are seeing could be the figment of a deranged mind. In any event, this is one of those completely bonkers Japanese genre flicks that will probably earn itself a cult following, or perhaps a bad reputation. Whether its bravura filmmaking or an ugly piece of exploitation would be up to the viewer to decide, but there is no denying that The World of Kanako is remarkable.