by Yoshito Seino
This is not a movie." That is something said by some film critics, industry people, and even ordinary audience members when they have watched a daring “independent” film. The typical reasons for this reaction come down to the most familiar: the story is not easy to understand due to its complexity and unsuitable editing/shooting. Director Tetsuya Nakashima may be a big budget Japanese film director but his films have been given a similar reputation to those aforementioned independent films. His films have always been controversial. Controversy is a very important element in many situations especially when pursuing the best answer to troubling social questions although the Japanese film industry tends to shy away from controversial situations. With his work Tetsuya Nakashima inspires and changes the industry every time we view a film of his. I am pretty sure that The World of Kanako is a big turning point for Japanese cinema.
Tetsuya Nakashima started his career as an advertising director and it seems he has always aimed big when creating content. One of his works with a major Japanese beer company named Sapporo won the Japanese largest advertising competition the ACC golden award and had a massive impact: his unique and funny commercials made us smile and secured commercial success. His first independent film Hanoji Wasurete (1982) was nominated at the Pia Film Festival and since 1987 he has been continually making films. Some of his most recognised works include Memory of Matsuko (2006), which saw lead actress Miki Nakatani win the Best Actress at the 2007 Japan Academy Award as well as Asian Film Award operated by Hong Kong International Film Festival, and Confessions (2010) which won the Best Film as well as Best Director at 2011 Japan Academy Award, and went on to get a wide release in outside of Japan.
Tetsuya Nakashima has believed one thing in filmmaking - it's targeting young audience who are living with an "unstable status". In an interview on Oricon Style he has stated, "I am particularly interested in what people in their 10's and 20's are thinking about so I am very happy if they have been inspired or enjoyed my films. One thing I strongly determined is that I am not making a film which is suited to their feeling, because it is instantly exposed by their sensitive minds."
There are many coming of age films produced in Japan with the Shunji Iwai a director who specialises in them, suggesting that the best examples reflect how to describe "purely" a teenager's mind, especially in the case of non-verbal love. On the one hand, with The World of Kanako, Tetsuya Nakashima is challenging the common themes through different insight and perspective which is not close to teenagers "physically" yet close to them "mentally."
Watching the film is like debating mentality and youth issues, like having an active dialogue about what affects the young. Nakashima pours the insights into a film while keeping the element of entertainment with sharp/speedy editing/cutbacks and using popular songs. His balance of entertainment and young social issues is a key point of his style.
by Matthew Michaud
Four years after the resounding success of the psychological thriller Confessions (2010), Tetsuya Nakashima brings us Kawaki also known as The World of Kanako (2014). In The World of Kanako, we see numerous dramatic themes such as: desire, hatred, despair, prostitution, suicide, bullying, and depression. These motifs coagulate to make an intense neo-noir film that uses varying musical genres that at times contradict the action on the screen. Regardless of the directors’ choice of background music, the constant forward movement of plot is fairly able to keep the viewer hooked and attentive.
The movie credits roll in that discernable Tarantinoesque mode: noisy colourful retro titles in front of the protagonist angrily driving reckless in an old car. The movie’s choppy and perplexing opening overshadows the superb, nevertheless irate acting by Koji Yakusho. We can see a multiple wintry Christmas motifs, which are eaten away by quick edits and imagery of sexuality, religion, jealousy, rage, murder, happiness, partygoers, and drinking. The movie follows the protagonist, the angry and spiteful former detective Akikazu Fujishima (Koji Yakusho) as he searches for his missing daughter Kanako (Nana Komatsu). Fujishima, a sweaty haggard schizophrenic, sporting a man bun, bloodied white blazer, flower print shirt, and goatee is indeed quite the creature. Yakusho is excellent in his unwavering display of a man who has lost everything, is psychologically broken, and exudes nothing but dark despair, who also, from beginning to the end of the movie, shows us what tangible depression might look like.
Fujishima is a man who lost his job, marriage, and daughter due to mental volatility. He learns about his daughters’ secret life after being told by his estranged wife that she is missing, consequently going on an angry odyssey to find her. Fujishima’s abuse towards his ex-wife demonstrates many of the movie’s negative themes quickly. Along his path to find his daughter, he encounters his daughter’s neurologist, teacher, friends, and gang associates, bringing the audience further down the rabbit hole of confusion of who is lying and who might be telling the truth regarding where Kanako is. Moreover, none of the characters are affable due to their varying character flaws and our inability as viewers to completely understand the storyline. Furthermore, it is with the depiction of a sick urban society with countless problems beneath the surface that pervades our suspicious inquiries.
In true “hard-boiled” detective fashion, Fujishima is caught up in police investigations, vehemence by the hands of gang members, and the fiendishly dark trails his daughters’ cohorts have left behind. We are led to one character, I or narrator (Hiroya Shimizu), a Japanese schoolboy bullied and thrown into a rooftop pool. Upon entering the water, we see the director use animation to depict the scene. We see this narrator character fall for Kanako, owing her his freedom from the bullies who torment him, until his ultimate sad demise. The movie enlightens the audience to the darker sides of Japanese culture or it's extremes at least. Most observers into Japanese culture only see modernity, technology, timeliness, order, paired with reserved office workers and Kawaki-skirted schoolgirls. Yet, this movie portrays families as non-communicative, friends yearning for love yet are confronted with betrayal, bullying, and violence. At its core, the film depicts twisted characters and their interactions with each other in the most depressing and horrible visages.
It is not until Fujishima searches for his lost daughter does he start to understand her secrets. His unrelenting contempt and hate for his daughter is vocal and unceasingly brutal (very violent). He destroys those around him, yet at only a few points in the movie gains momentary composure of himself. His complete lack of understanding who his daughter is and what she does in her life is daunting and perhaps the directors’ illustration of some societal issues within Japan at large. Kanako’s good girl, bad girl dichotomy shows the audience an empty being and various characters eventually tell us this. Movie edits cut back and forth in time with rapidity. There are musical genres during bloody battle scenes such as opera and lofty piano music; there is a droll yet confident young detective (Satoshi Tsumabuki) who obviously likes lollypops. We are led back to Kanako’s teacher Rie Azuma played by the wonderful Miki Nakatani in a snowy countryside, falling in deep snow with Fujishima. The white snow, completely at odds with the August heat which most of the movie is set in.
The movie is quite overindulgent in its displays of fierceness and varying forms of physical maltreatment. The pain is felt by the viewer: bloody sprays, sound effects of fist to flesh are mushy, as characters take turns taking or giving abuses. The problem with an entire movie seemingly devoted to this type of relentless gloom is that it can become boring, contrite, and rather limit the directors intended impact. Likewise, the switching between past and present is at times worn-out. However, the movie’s strengths lie in its ability in portraying equal mystery with revelation. Viewers should be able to stay attentive while wading through waist deep blood and pain if they want to find where Kanako is. If one makes it to the end of the movie, through the fast edits of past and present and tiring violence, the viewer might be quite emotionally tired yet fulfilled in some irrational way after experiencing the world of Kanako.
by Jason Maher
Director Tetsuya Nakashima is no stranger to international audiences and it is mostly down to his unique style and his approach to mixed-genre movies.
Nakashima became a household name amongst cinephiles interested in contemporary Japanese film thanks to his work on colourful and wild titles like the quirky seishun eiga Kamikaze Girls (2004) and the glossy musical melodrama Memories of Matsuko (2006) but his name reached a global audience with the dark school-based revenge thriller Confessions (2010), based on a novel by Kanae Minato. It was an award-winning film in which Nakashima did the complete opposite of what he had become famous for. Gone were the bright lights and bubbly eclectic music and in came a dull colour palette and a soundtrack mostly consisting of Radiohead. What remained was Nakashima’s approach to mixed-genre filmmaking that saw him combine the trappings of a psychological thriller and revenge drama with social commentary. With The World of Kanako Nakashima reinvents himself again.
The World of Kanako is based on the 2005 novel Hateshinaki Kawaki by Akio Fukamachi and it was considered unfilmable due to its graphic content about crime. Nakashima dared to make it and the resulting film stirred up a lot of controversy especially because Nakashima wanted teens to see it. Controversy usually means great box-office returns and it did well in Japan while earning some international notoriety. The controversy is well-deserved because there are horrific moments in this film but beyond the controversy lies an exquisite and meticulously constructed tale that is one of Nakashima’s most complex works to date.
The World of Kanako is genre-defying even though it looks like a conventional crime thriller on paper. It is a tale of a disgraced former detective named Akikazu Fujishima searching for his missing daughter Kanako and uncovering a web of corruption that reveals she was not the person he thought she was and the people around him are corrupt.
Typical thriller material.
Viewers soon discovered that the film was far from a simple thriller. Nakashima’s maximalist approach ensured it was a cinematic shotgun blast that blew away the audience with its extreme depiction of crime and violence, its lurid and salacious story, and its brutal and hideous characters played in an exaggerated fashion by actors clearly having a whale of a time. Again, Nakashima transformed his aesthetic approach to hyperactive from the one seen in Confessions, a minimalist and still movie. All of this style threatens to flatten the audience’s senses, making it hard for some to truly appreciate the message about the modern-day perils out there for teens, expertly told through intelligent art/sound design and Tetsuya Nakashima’s utilisation of mixed-genre filmmaking which made the film feel unpredictable and fresh.
Genres bring expectations and conventions on the sorts of editing and camera placement that help classify and create stories but through Nakashima’s multi genre synthesis The World of Kanako rises above formulaic thriller territory, purposefully unsettling and confusing the audience with the aggressive use of different genre dynamics playing off each other. The set-up of the script adopts a non-linear approach as chronology and perspective are mixed up. With each character giving their view of events and Kanako comes different styles and key pieces of narrative information.
The start of the investigation presents Kanako as almost angelic. We get the view of an adoring schoolboy who loves Kanako and through him we descend into the romance genre with seishun eiga tropes bubbling away. Komatsu is a siren figure, all smiles and helpful, loving gestures. These are the memories that Fujishima carries of his daughter but as he continues his investigation into Kanako’s background her friends reveal the ugly truth about her and we are taken into youth drama genre territory and then crime. As more of the story is revealed the barriers between genre and filming style decay and everything gets darker and bloodier both visually and story-wise. The engine for clearing up the mystery of the entire story is Kanako’s father, Fujishima a psychopath played like a barbarian by a ragged and demented-looking Koji Yakusho. Through Fujishima’s investigation we get another set of genres, the gritty crime/film noir and action scenes providing the fuel to power the engine of the narrative as he investigates yakuza, drug dealers, thugs and cops and school kids using a combination of old school detective work and physical violence.
It is unpredictable and complex stuff and exciting because of its refusal to be pinned down to one genre and present a simple story. Nakashima uses genre conventions to undermine our views of Kanako at every point, his artistry shaping our perception of the characters telling her story. Colour and editing, camera movement and music are used to differentiate story continuity for sequences focussed on different characters. The introduction of Kanako has white as the predominant colour and floating, dreamlike camerawork, while her psychopathic father is defined by the colour red, choppy editing, and shaky camera work. Kanako’s world is scored to the hyper-pop of Dempagumi.inc while her father’s soundtrack is more old school funk. Through these clever tricks we understand the emotional states of the characters. Gradually the mystery of Kanako is revealed and the film returns to a sort of love and the filming style comes full-circle with white being the predominant colour.
All of these techniques are carefully designed to influence viewer’s interpretations of the characters each of whom get their own backstories revealed and their collective story makes a frightening portrait of modern life with variety of social issues from parenting and fear of what teens get up to. Early sexualisation, gritty crime, a growing drug problem, and the breakdown in traditional family values and gender roles are explored in an uncompromising fashion. Nakashima reveals how violence begets violence and pain spreads, how the predations of older members of society can corrupt fresh-faced children and force them to wreak havoc. Coming at a time when teen crime is an issue in Japan (and much of the developed world) and the nation’s youth, rapidly losing faith in the system, are groomed for the pleasure of an older generation in a youth obsessed culture, where self-destructive pleasure is paramount and hope seems in short supply, this is a realistic modern-day horror film.
Brave the crazy action and luxuriate in the use of genre and style and you will find a magnificent beast of a film. Audiences will need a strong stomach and an open, observant mind to really enjoy this but it is worth it. Uncompromising and unique, The World of Kanako is a wild ride.
by Natsumi Shiroko
The World of Kanako has many protagonist which are played by prestige Japanese actors and actress. Hence, firstly it seems complicated and chaotic. In fact, the story is mainly narrated by two protagonists, Akihiro Fujishima (Koji Yakusho) and I (Hiroya Shimizu), both of that are devastated by Kanako Fujishima (Nana Komatsu).
The contrast between two actors are physically and psychologically outstanding. Whereas Koji Yakusho represents a sweaty, filthy and massive yakuza figure, Hiroya Shimizu does a pure, skinny and naïve adolescent who has a surprisingly sloping shoulder. Even though both of them love Kanako, the way to show their attitude towards her is also opposite. The depiction of these contrast is emphasised by visual effects and music as well.
Especially the presence of Koji Yakusho, one of the best actors in the history of Japanese cinema, gives impact on the film thoroughly. Most of people would agree that his public images are sincere and hardworking good husband and father like in Shall We Dance? directed by Masayuki Suo. However, Fujishima in the film is completely opposite to those images. It is clear from the screen that he enjoys playing extremely different role from usual ones as he actually told in some interviews. In a way, his old-fashioned way of thinking or dressing has a reality in the story in which there are a bunch of high school kids who live in a fantasy world. Since Yakusho plays this role, his long career also help the film to go out of teen crime genre. Although the character Fujishima is also childish and fiercely, Yakusho surely keeps the film calm down.
Among young actors and actress that have already made appearance on some films, it is hard to believe that this is the first film for Nana Komatsu who plays Kanako. Her freshness and whimsy smiles are able to attract not only male but also female audience. As this is the first feature film for her, the mysterious image of Kanako is doubled by one of Nana Komatsu herself. Audience would be deeply attracted by her because they hardly know either character or actress herself. Of course, this can be successful only if the actress is talented.
*All of images provided by Wild Bunch.