“I just want to find my daughter,” declares Fujishima Akikazu (Yakusho Koji).
Lost to a haze of pills, alcohol and psychiatric disorders, this destructively aggressive ex-cop turned security guard has just been interviewed by the police regarding some young murder victims found in the convenience store near where he works, when his ex-wife Kiriko calls to tell him that Kanako (Kamatsu Nana) – the estranged teenage daughter whose face he barely remembers – has gone missing. Filled with a renewed sense of purpose, Akikazu sets about bringing his world of medication, rage and mayhem crashing into Kanako’s own not entirely unrelated world. As he gets closer to confronting home truths about his daughter and himself, Akikazu realises that if anyone is going to kill the errant Kanako, it must be her father.
There are many influences that contribute to the heady texture of Nakashima Tetsuya’s The World Of Kanako (Kawaki). On the one hand it relocates The Searchers (1956) to the landscapes of contemporary Tokyo, as a father looking for his lost daughter comes to embody the most monstrous of patriarchal values from the past. On the other, Akikazu is easily recognisable as one of those rampaging antiheroes who have charged their way through recent Korean cinema (think Oldboy, The Chaser, I Saw The Devil, Breathless) like bulls in a china shop. Yet again, he is a throwback to the hardmen of Sixties and Seventies American cinema, even coming with his own punchy animated split-screen credit sequence and English-language cartoon-action captions (“Kill!” “Fuck!” “Go to Hell!”), and often accompanied in his endeavours by a brassy cover of the song House of the Rising Sun (a bygone ‘classic’ here reappropriated to the Land of the Rising Sun).
Most of all, though, this is very much the director’s own show, stamped with the visual flamboyance, restless energy and time-leaping multi-narrative fervour that have been his signature since Kamikaze Girls (2004). While this new film, in all its cartoonish chaos, might at first seem the very opposite of Nakashima’s previous, more staid Confessions (2010), thematically The World Of Kanako plays like its companion piece, with both films focusing on adolescent angst and anomie – and, eventually, on a vengeful teacher/mother. Still, none of Nakashima’s prior work has been quite as frenetic as this, with the jittery, schizophrenic approach to editing and the dramatic shifts in filmmaking style (including anime and even pop videos) serving to reflect not only the mental instability of the central character, but the madness of a nation. It is not without significance that The World Of Kanako opens with this quote from Cocteau: “an era is only confused by a confused mind”. Nakashima is engaged in epic, epochal filmmaking about an individual’s – and a society’s – deeply damaging insanity.
After bruising, bloody encounters with cops, yakuza, wayward youths and appetitive elders, Akikazu’s white suit will gradually become flushed with bright blood red, in subversive mimicry of the Japanese flag – as though Nakashima is exposing the corruption and sickness that underpin every structure and authority of the island state. Of course, though positioned as the film’s criminal investigator and even syly pushed into that role by the slippery Detective Asai (Tsumabuki Satoshi), Akikazu is himself a big part of the problem. If bad seed Kanako turns out to be a cruel and manipulative psychopath, then it is a case of the apple not falling far from the tree – and in the film’s snowbound climax that references, and contrasts with, the end of OldBoy, Akikazu’s tragedy is not so much that he wants to forget his illicit love for his daughter as that he wishes, even more illicitly, to erase her himself, in the ultimate act of (self-)destruction.
After all, this is a film where the ideal of the happy family is relegated to a cheesy TV ad or to a dream, while the reality is a demolition zone of sexual abuse and physical violence. No wonder the kids aren’t alright. Insanity, you see, is catching.
© Anton Bitel