The World of Kanako (2014)

Directed by
An astonishing glimpse into a disturbing world
Reviewed by Simon on 2021-06-12

Koji Yakusho plays a former detective turned alcoholic who receives a call from his estranged wife accusing him of kidnapping their daughter, Kanako, since she hasn't seen her for several days. He did not, so he decides to investigate her disappearance. Kanako is a beautiful and charming girl and a model student, but as her father starts to learn about the daughter he never really knew he discovers that her life wasn't exactly a fairy tale.

I've been meaning to watch THE WORLD OF KANAKO for years but was never quite in the mood for it - or so I thought, as it turns out the film is not really what I was expecting it to be at all. For a start, despite her prominent appearance on the cover Kanako isn't the main focus of the film - in fact we hardly see her for most of it, since she has disappeared. The film follows Koji Yakusho closely instead, in a fascinating performance as the nasty, thuggish and bitter ex-cop and errant father. His investigation takes him on a tour of Japan's seedy underbelly, a world of drugs, prostitution and violence - he fits in perfectly.

The film has an extremely interesting visual style, featuring lots of close ups with handheld cameras and disorienting edits. Kanako herself is only ever glimpsed at the start of the film, largely unseen and unknown (but undeniably beguiling). The film jumps around in time frequently, sometimes noted with a title card but more often not. Sudden bursts of radical stylisation, jarring tonal shifts and surprising musical choices all serve to keep the viewer disorientated and unnerved, and perhaps therefore more receptive to the dark journey Nakashima wants to take us on. The fractured and fragmented delivery encourages us to share in the characters' mental states.

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The soundtrack is particularly interesting, often quite intrusive and seemingly inappropriate for the tone of the scene, but somehow always effective. It's a bold and risky move but Nakashima certainly seems to know what he's doing, as the chosen music always enhances the scene.

THE WORLD OF KANAKO is a much darker film than the angelic looking girl on the poster would lead you to suspect (even factoring in the splash of blood behind her). The disturbing places it goes to are perhaps not so surprising if you've seen Nakashima's previous film Confessions, though whilst that film talked about some dark subjects it was restrained in what it actually showed - THE WORLD OF KANAKO holds nothing back.

In case I've given the impression that the film's poster is a complete lie and Nana Komatsu is hardly in the film, that's not the case throughout. She's only seen in people's memories and recollections but as her father begins to understand her we see her more clearly, enough for her to leave an indelible impression. It's easy to see why she was such a powerful influence in people's lives. and it's easy to see why Nana Komatsu won awards for her debut film.

THE WORLD OF KANAKO is a truly astonishing piece of work that surprised me in many ways. Its closest relative is probably Park Chan-Wook's OLDBOY, but even that seems kind of quaint in comparison... if Takashi Miike had done an OLDBOY remake in his prime it might have turned out something like this... but it probably wouldn't have been this tight.

In some ways I'm kicking myself for not watching it sooner, but simultaneous glad that I was able to watch it for the first time today. I won't sleep so long on catching up with the rest of Nakashima's work though.