'The World of Kanako' ('Kawaki'): Helsinki Review

World of Kanako Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival

World of Kanako Still - H 2014

A nasty mystery grounded by Koji Yakusho's fierce performance

A missing daughter is further gone than her parents think

A nasty, viewer-punishing take on the lost-child detective tale, Tetsuya Nakashima's The World of Kanako watches as a broken man learns just how little he knows about an estranged daughter whose innocence he has long taken for granted. Adapting a novel by Akio Fukamachi whose nihilistic heart threatens to alienate viewers completely, the picture relies on a powerhouse turn by Koji Yakusho, whose brutishness is a far cry from the soulful performance that won Westerners over in Shall We Dance? Fresh from a launching pad in Toronto, the picture should attract attention on the fest circuit and would be a smart buy for distribs capable of connecting with the audience that made the original Old Boy a cult classic.

Yakusho's Fujishima, a possibly mentally ill man who lost both his family and his career as a police detective due to alcohol-fueled emotional outbursts, is working as a convenience store rent-a-cop when a triple murder brings him back into contact with old co-workers. One, Det. Asai, couldn't be happier about the older man's disgrace, and decides to trail him as a suspect in the killings. (With a lollipop stuck permanently in his grinning maw, Satoshi Tsumabuki is intolerably smug in the role.) Around the same time, Fujishima's ex-wife (Asuka Kurosawa) calls him in a panic, asking him to find their 17 year-old daughter Kanako (Nana Komatsu), who has been missing for almost a week and who has been a stranger to him for far longer.

Having started the film with provocative images and snatches of dialogue ("I love you"; "I'll kill you!") whose significance remains unclear for some time, Nakashima throws Fujishima headlong into detective work while taking viewers on a more elliptical investigation. The sweaty, bellicose ex-cop (whose off-white linen suit will grow outrageously blood-spattered through the film) quickly finds signs that Kanako was using drugs, and gets leads on various sleazy teens who may have led her astray. But as we witness a sequence of events three years ago, in which a bullied boy falls in love with and is manipulated by Kanako, we realize Fujishima's insistence that other teens are to blame is evidence of a very big blind spot.

Throughout the film, Nakashima and his team nod to '60s and '70s exploitation pix (both Japanese and American), but few of those movies (nor some other obvious antecedents, like Paul Schrader's Hardcore) dared to be as black-souled as this one, which refuses to balance its over-the-edge antihero with a teen worth saving. Kanako is described repeatedly as "amazingly insane" by the kids who knew her, and even viewers who have witnessed the caprices of too-perfect teenaged girls will likely find the depravity of her backstory hard to swallow. In its final sequences, the film teeters on the edge, with each revelation threatening to make World of Kanako as hollow as the girl herself, but the masochistic determination of Yakusho's performance keeps it upsettingly human. Having passed his dark tendencies on to a daughter who far surpassed him, Fujishima is unwilling to rest until he has extinguished anything in the world that might look like hope.

Production company: GAGA

Cast: Koji Yakusho, Nana Komatsu, Jun Kunimura, Miki Nakatani, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Asuka Kurosawa

Director: Tetsuya Nakashima

Screenwriters: Tetsuya Nakashima, Nobuhiro Momma, Miako Tadano

Based on the novel by Akio Fukamachi

Producers: Satomi Kotake, Yutaka Suzuki

Executive producers: Naohito Miyamoto, Kazuo Nakanishi, Tom Yoda

Director of photography: Shoichi Ato

Production designer: Toshihiro Isomi

Costume designer: Hiromi Shintani

Editor: Yoshiyuki Koike

Music: Grand Funk Inc.

Casting directors: Kumiko Hosokawa, Junjiro Kurosawa


No rating, 118 minutes