I’ve seen a lot of weird Japanese films. It seems that that Japan has their own genre of films that variously feature spraying blood, brutal beatings, intense bullying, rape, incest, gore, misogyny, copious amounts of smoking, pedophilia, characters who laugh at inappropriate times, and schoolgirl panties. Rarely, do the films feature even half of these these things. The World of Kanako features ALL of them. On paper (not real paper, obviously), that sounds horrible. And the film can be at times. But not horrible as in, “this film is…”. Rather, it’s horrible as in, “the shit going on in this film is…”. It’s hard to stomach at times but… well, I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s get into it.
Mr. Fujishima is an ex-cop with a dark spot in his history that marked the point at which he lost his job and when his wife and daughter, the titular Kanako, severed ties with him. Now, three bodies are found at the store where he works as a security guard. They turn out to be connected with the disappearance of his teen daughter. He inserts himself back in his ex-wife’s life (violently) and takes on the missing persons investigation himself. Along the way, he is helped by a smirking young cop, he’s beaten several times, he’s shot, he shoots, he uncovers depravity, he obtains highly sought after items, he rapes, he pukes, he loses his damn mind, and he gets to know who his daughter really was. Through flashbacks and interrogations, we find out that the cute teenager who was “nice to everyone” had some dark secrets herself. And she left serious emotional and physical destruction in her wake.
If that synopsis seems terse, it’s due to the nature of this film. The World of Kanako is a beautifully frenetic neo-noir film that features wild color palette shifts, ADHD editing, and disorienting time shifts. (the elevator pitch may well have been: it’s The Long Goodbye meets Spring Breakers in a Gaspar Noe directed nightmare that Takashi Miike is having) The filmmakers’ focus on the aesthetics of visual storytelling could easily have detracted from the story, but it manages to remain compelling despite the it. And despite the viewer’s aversion to its main character and the piece-by-piece revelations about his quarry. The same principle explains why people cannot look away when driving by a car wreck. We don’t consciously want to see injured people among the shattered glass, rent steel, and leaking fluids, but we subconsciously hope to. Similarly, we subconsciously want to see what Mr. Fujishima will do next despite knowing that it can’t be good. His singular drive toward his daughter takes him down dark, dark paths. He is objectively a piece of shit human being, but we follow him on his journey hoping for some glimmer of light in the darkness. And, barring that, some explanation for his daughter’s actions. This is definitely not a “feel good” film. It is pitch black. And it is played completely straight despite the violence leaning toward the cartoonishly shocking. (there are even literal cartoon segments throughout the film) It is because of the over-the-top violence (and the frenetic visuals) that this bleak story works without completely crushing the viewer emotionally. It just mostly crushes you emotionally.
THE FINAL CUT: The World of Kanako weaves a bleak story through the bones of a classic film noir plot with an up-to-the-minute pop visual flair. Fans of dark, cynical films will appreciate its unflinching portrayal of despicable characters doing despicable things.