Writer: Tetsuya Nakashima (screenplay) Akio Fukamachi (novel)
Cast: Koji Yakusho, Miki Nakatani, Nana Komatsu, Jun Kunimura, Hiroya Shimizu, Asuka Kurosawa
Cert: 18 TBC
Running time: 118mins
The lowdown: Ultraviolent, nightmarish thriller from the director of the multi-award winning Confessions, this is too wild and brutal to receive a similar level of love. But, unrelenting and bludgeoning though it may be, Testuya Nakashima’s latest is a phantasmagoric, exhilarating tale of family secrets, madness and murder. And Koji Yakusho’s ex-cop hunting for his missing daughter is one frighteningly memorable monster.
The full verdict: Director Tetsuya Nakashima dislikes being bound to a single genre and The World of Kanako, his first film since 2010’s Confessions, is genre-breaking… and bone-shattering… and stomach churning.
A pre-credit montage slams the audience with seemingly random moments and violent occurrences that will come to haunt the film like bad memories.
Then colourful, splashy, stylised opening credits introduce Yashuko’s bad ex-lieutenant, Akikazu Fujishima. Hard-boiled, dirty and playing outside the rules, Akikazu is the archetypal lawman gone wrong and Nakashima drops him into a world of real grief, regret and revenge – and has fun depicting how unreal and outrageous the mash-up will become.
Called in for questioning over a brutal convenience store triple homicide, Akikazu is released and contacted by his ex-wife (Kurosawa), worried that their daughter Kanako (Komatsu) hasn’t been seen for days.
Akikazu’s investigation takes him not only into alien worlds of screeching teens, sadistic gangsters and enforced prostitution, but also into the past where his own violent nature and its effects on his missing daughter comes into ever sharper relief. And in good old film noir fashion, his case and the murders at the convenience store converge.
Not for nothing is Kanako’s favourite book Alice in Wonderland. Not just she, but every character plunges down the rabbit hole, where the criminal underworld becomes a literal subterranean Hell of Dante-esque proportions.
Remember the blood pouring out the lift shaft in The Shining? That is roughly how much claret Nakashima uses to paint his picture of a man’s violent past returning to haunt him. And as stories of Kanako’s past deeds come to harsh light, it’s clear no-one, including Kanako’s shrink and schoolteacher (Kunimura and Nakatani) will have happy endings.
Nakashima (adapting Akio Fukamachi’s novel) directs present day sequences in sweaty, claustrophobic close-up, visualising just how close to the case Akikazu is. While the past, predominantly a crucial period three years previously when a bullied lad (Shimizu) seeks salvation in Kanako, is shot hazy, blurry, overexposed, as a half-remembered memory.
Then, as past and present collide the two styles slam together, reality becoming more slippery and the nightmare, particularly the almost non-stop orgy of bloodletting in the final half hour, more real.
Adult dread about an out-of-control generation, a luridly overblown metaphor for parenting anxiety, or an equally delirious allegory of the modern Japanese male’s battle to avoid emasculation? Probably all three.
Yakusho’s man of violence has antecedents in the likes of Harvey Keitel’s Bad Lieutenant, plus Takeshi Kitano’s terrifying performance in the underseen Blood and Bone and Ken Ogata’s turn in the masterpiece Vengeance Is Mine (seemingly homaged here in the final moments).
Strong stomachs are required, but like grain alcohol mixed with gunpowder this packs one hell of a punch.